The Internal Revenue Service – An Overview of the I.R.S.
The Internal Revenue Service (I.R.S.) is the agency that collects tax revenue for the United States federal government. Here’s an overview of how the agency functions and resources you may need to deal with the I.R.S.
By William Perez
Who’s in Charge of the I.R.S.?
The Commissioner is the chief executive of the Internal Revenue Service. Commissioners are appointed by the President of the United States and approved by the Senate. Commissioners serve five-year terms and are responsible for overseeing all operations of the I.R.S., from the processing of tax returns, the collection of taxes, enforcing tax laws, and interpreting tax laws written by Congress. The current Commissioner of Internal Revenue is Douglas Shulman.
How is the I.R.S. Organized?
The Internal Revenue Service is organized around divisions that focus on particular constituents. There are four divisions that deal with individual taxpayers, small businesses, mid- to large businesses, and nonprofits. These operational divisions focus on routine activities of processing tax returns, communicating with taxpayers, conducting audits, and collecting taxes. Around these four divisions there are department that deal with a range of services that impact the entire I.R.S. These include information technology, criminal investigations, and various support services for the entire agency.
What’s the History of the I.R.S.?
The Internal Revenue Service began in 1862 as the Bureau of Internal Revenue, and was disbanded after the income tax laws were repealed following the Civil War. The I.R.S. was re-created following the ratification of the 16th Amendment in 1913, amending the US Constitution to give Congress the authority to tax income. There’s also a brief history of the I.R.S. on Wikipedia, an overview of the history of taxation in the United States from About.com, and a tax history museum from the publishers of Tax Analysts.
What’s the Official Web site of the I.R.S.?
The official Web site of the Internal Revenue Service is www.irs.gov. There are knock-off Web sites that end in .com, .org and other domain suffixes.
Contacting the I.R.S. by Telephone
You can call the Internal Revenue Service with general questions about taxes, with questions about your specific tax return, to find out the status of your refund, or to resolve any problems you might have. The phone number for inquiries about personal income taxes is 1-800-829-1040. For inquiries about business taxes, call 1-800-829-4933. There’s a separate department in the I.R.S. that deals with identity theft issues, such as if you believe someone else has filed a tax return using your name or Social Security Number. The identity theft hotline number is 1-800-908-4490.
Where to Send Tax Returns
The I.R.S. has different mailing address for various kinds of tax returns, other documents, and payments.
Finding a Local I.R.S. Office
The Internal Revenue Service has local offices all over the United States. You can drop off tax returns, make payments, obtain tax forms and publications, and get help with your tax questions at these Taxpayer Assistance Centers. There’s also a handful of I.R.S. offices in foreign countries.
Finding Tax Forms and I.R.S. Publications
You can find preprinted tax forms, instructions, and publications at local I.R.S. offices, at public libraries, and on the I.R.S. Web site. Online versions of the forms are formatted in the Adobe Acrobat PDF format, and you’ll need Acrobat Reader to view and print these forms. You can also find archived versions of forms and instructions for previous years going back to 1980.
Can I file a tax return directly on the I.R.S. Web site?
No. Currently, you cannot file your tax return directly on the I.R.S. Web site. Instead, you file your tax return either by mailing it in to an I.R.S. processing center, or by transmitting your return electronically using tax preparation software. Local tax accountants can also file your return electronically through their software. The I.R.S. provides links to free Web-based tax preparation software for individuals who qualify for the Free File program.
What can I do if I cannot afford to pay my taxes?
Taxpayers have several options for dealing with tax debts. You can set up a monthly payment plan called an installment agreement. You may also be eligible to defer payments for a period of time if you are facing financial hardship. Taxes can also be settled through an offer-in-compromise, or can be discharged through a bankruptcy proceeding. Installment agreements can be set up on the IRS Web site using the Online Payment Agreement Application.
What can I do if I need extra help in dealing with the I.R.S.?
Taxpayers often find they need extra help in dealing with the Internal Revenue Service. There’s a number of resources available. Some people may qualify for free help from a tax clinic, which are publicly funded non-profit organizations designed to help people resolve their tax problems. You can also contact the Taxpayer Advocate Service if you’ve been unable to resolve your problems directly with the I.R.S. Otherwise, you can seek the help of a qualified tax accountant or tax attorney
Where can I find news and updates from the I.R.S.?
The Internal Revenue Service publishes news, updates and information on various pages of its Web site. The I.R.S. Newsroom covers recent changes about tax deductions, tax credits, or news of general interest. The Internal Revenue Bulletin provides a weekly compilation of official announcements regarding official procedures and decisions issued by the I.R.S. And the FOIA Reading Room provides access to a wide variety of internal documents and private determinations made by the I.R.S. Quantitative data about income, the number of tax returns filed, revenue collected, audits, and other enforcement action are published by the Statistics of Income Division.
Where can I find news about what’s going on at the I.R.S.?
A variety of newspapers cover the Internal Revenue Service. The Chicago Tribune Web site collects news reports about the I.R.S. from the Associated Press and other newspapers around the country. The New York Times provides an index of its own news about the I.R.S. Finally, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University provides in-depth reports about the I.R.S.’s operations through its TRAC-IRS Web site. That site covers a wide variety of issues, including audits, criminal investigations, income by county, and geographic variance in enforcement activities.