Tax time is just around the corner, with 26 days left before federal income tax returns must be in the mail. If you want help figuring your taxes, the Internal Revenue Service will assist you. IRS employes will answer questions by telephone, provide tax publications or advise you in person at any of three offices in the District of Columbia.
If you cannot fill out your return, the IRS will do it for you. Forms are available in Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese. In addition, the IRS has new "problem resolution representatives" who will untangle red tape and help if someone else falls down on the job.
All of the IRS services are free.
There's more good news. The filing deadline has been extended this year from April 15 to midnight of April 17, because the 15th falls on a Saturday.
The toll-free number for tax help is 488-3100. Deaf persons with access to a TV phone/teletypewriter (TTY) have a special number: 1 - 800-428-4732.
Although the IRS has simplified this year's form, the agency still expects crowded offices and clogged telephone lines during the final days before the filing deadline. You are more likely to get prompt service by telephoning on a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday before 9:30 a.m. or after 3:30 p.m. If you make a personal visit, go toward the end of the week, the agency advises.
IRS tax advisers sometimes make mistakes. The agency is not responsible for the accuracy of your return, however, even if an IRS employe prepares it for you. That means you may have to pay more, if you are audited later, but you will not have to pay interest on the additional tax if the IRS preparer makes a mathematical error on your return.
Here are IRS recommendations on where to go for help, how to prepare for an IRS interview, records to keep, free tax publications, where to complain about refund problems and how to handle an audit. Where To Go For Help
The IRS has two temporary offices on Capitol Hill. They are staffed with highly skilled experts who give tax help to the nation's legislators and their employes. These offices are also open to the public, and you should visit them if your tax problems are complex.
There are two revenue agents in each office. They usually spend their time auditing complex returns but switch to tax assistance during the filing season. The offices are located in Room 24, Russell Senate Office Building, and Room 400, Cannon House Office Building. Most ordinary forms are available there, but if you need special forms or tax publications, you must go to the main office downtown. Parking is hard to find on Capitol Hill. Plan to take the subway or the bus.
The main IRS office is located at 1201 E St. NW. Access by public transportation is easy, with bus service nearby and a subway stop at the corner of 12th and F streets NW. Also, there is a parking garage across from the E Street entrance ($1.05 an hour).
The taxpayer assistance office, refurbished last year with bright colors and new chairs, has been reorganized this year. Now you must go to room 803 for tax publications and forms. You go to room 701 for tax advise. A receptionist will greet you and give you a card that indicates the type of service you require - yellow for questions only, pink for help with the short 1040 A form, blue for the long 1040 form. Be sure you card corresponds to the kind of service you seek.
You will be helped with tax questions at a counter that has dividers, to provide a little privacy. If you need assistance on the long 1040 form, you helper will lead you to a table away from the crowd. Count on spending an hour, in addition to waiting time, to have your long 1040 form prepared. Preparing For Your Interview
Help on the long form will require some homework in advance. First, study the form you wish to use, and make a list of all the information required. This will include your social security number, number of dependents, types and amounts of income and expense incurred during the year. If you plan to itemize deductions, write down the amounts of the deductions and reasons for them.
Take the list and your W2 form (the wage and tax statement provided by your employer) to the IRS office. Your helper will explain each line of the return and complete it for you if you cannot do so yourself. Do not take a bundle of cancelled checks or receipts with you. Your helper cannot go through them for you.
When the form is filled out, the employe will have it verified by someone else, sign it as the preparer, have you sign it, and then give you a copy for your files. The IRS will retain the original of your return.
Since the law is complex, and mistakes are easy to make, you should be on guard against incorrect IRS advise. If you believe the employe is wrong, speak up. Ask to see the law that affects your case. If you are still not satisfied, ask to talk to a specialist. It's better to be sure your return is correct, than to face an unexpected bill later on. Record Keeping
After your return is prepared, keep a copy for your files. In addition, keep all documents that substantiate the claims you made on the return. These include sales slips, invoices, receipts, cancelled checks and other financial papers. To be convincing, the documents must clearly establish reasons for the deductions and credits shown on your return. Also, make a note for your life describing exactly how you or your IRS helper solved any special problems (such as the sale of your house). If you are audited, you may have to reconstruct the way you figured your taxes long after you have forgotten how you did it.
Because the IRS can audit your return any time within three years after it is due or filed, whichever is later, you should keep most records at least that long. You may have to retain other documents indefinitely. For example, you will need files relating to the purchase of a house and receipts for any improvements made to it in order to calculate taxes if you sell it later.
Another important record to keep is the date you mailed your tax return or the date the IRS prepared it for you. You may need this information if your refund does not arrive when you expect it. Free Tax Publications
If you want to prepare your return yourself, but have some special tax problems, you might consult one of the 84 free booklets put out by the IRS. The cover a broad range of topics, and explain tax problems in detail.
For example, Publication 523, "Tax Information on Selling or Purchasing Your Home" (16 pages), contains a comprehensive example of a home purchase and sale, special rules for persons over 65 and a sample filled-in Form 2119 "Sale or Exchange of Personal Residence." Publication 553 (12 pages) has up-to-date information on 1977 changes in the tax law. Publication 526 (eight pages) gives rules for income tax deductions for contributions.
The entire list of booklets appears on the last page of "Your Federal Income Tax" (Publication 17, 192 pages). This is the agency's popular and comprehensive tax guide. It compares favorably with commercial newsstand guides that sell for $3 or $4, and it is free. Ask for it at an IRS office, or order it by telephone. Telephone orders may be delayed, however, so be sure to ask whether your tax publications will arrive in time to use them.
One note of caution: IRS publications explain only the offical government interpretation of the tax law and not the more liberal views that courts have taken on specific cases. Also, you may not rely on any IRS publication as your authority in tax matters. Even if you follow the official guide, the IRS can challenge you, take you to court and win. The same is true of commercial guides. Trouble With Your Refund
Your refund should arrive four to six weeks after you mail your return. If the IRS does not send your refund within 45 days after your return was due or filed (whichever is later), it must pay you 6 percent interest on the total amount it owes you. This year, interest will begin on June 2 if you file on April 17.
The IRS gets more complaints about refunds than anything else, the agency reports. Your check may be delayed, missing or stolen. It may be larger or smaller than you expected, or it may not arrive at all. If the check does arrive, but is for the wrong amount, wait for two weeks, the IRS suggests. You should get an explanatory notice within that time. If you do not receive an explanation, or if your refund does not arrive at all, the IRS suggests you take the following steps:
1. Call the toll-free number, 488-3100. Keep a record of the date, time, and name of the employe you speak to, and copies of any documents you are asked to send to the agency. Explain the problem and tell the employe your name, address, social security number, telephone number and the date you mailed your return.If the employe does not ask for this information, nothing is likely to be done about your complaint. Find out when the employe intends to return your call or mail necessary forms to you. If you do not receive the expected call, or if the forms do not arrive, take step two.
2. Call the toll-free number and ask for the problem resolution representative. This person's job is to help taxpayers who have tried but failed to get assistance through normal channels. If after five days you have not received a satisfactory response, take step three.
3. Call the toll-free number and ask for the taxpayer service group supervisor, Regina Knight. If you are not satisfied with the response, take step four.
4. Call the toll-free number and ask for the chief of the taxpayer service division, Charles W. Brooks. If your problem is not solved at this level, take step five.
5. Write to the district director, the top IRS official in this area. Explain the problem and each step you took to solve it. Send your letter by registered mail, and request a receipt. Write to: Gerald Portney, IRS District Director, 31 Hopkins Plaza, Baltimore, Md. 21201.