© 2023 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Tax deadline arrives as the IRS embarks on a 10-year, $80 billion makeover

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

More than 90 million people have filed tax returns so far this year, but some of us wait till the last minute. And for most people, that's midnight tonight.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The IRS has automatically extended the deadline for parts of some states that have experienced natural disasters, such as California, Alabama and Tennessee. Taxes come due this year as the IRS is embarking on a 10-year, $80 billion makeover to crack down on tax cheats and improve customer service.

FADEL: NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now. Happy tax day, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: Good morning. So let's talk about that $80 billion. How's the IRS going to spend it, and what will that mean for taxpayers?

HORSLEY: Some of the money is going to go to replace outdated computer hardware. A lot of it's going to go for new personnel so the IRS can do a better job of collecting the money the government needs to operate. You know, for more than a decade, the agency has been starved of resources. So the new IRS commissioner, Danny Werfel, plans to hire a lot more auditors and lawyers to make sure that wealthy people pay the taxes they owe.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DANNY WERFEL: Despite what some might think or say, these public servants within the IRS are armed only with calculators and their skills to help us address complex issues.

HORSLEY: Now, the administration says the stepped-up enforcement will focus on people making more than $400,000 a year, especially those with the most complicated returns and more avenues for cheating. For the average wage earner, the IRS already knows how much money you make, so the opportunities for tax evasion are pretty limited.

FADEL: The image of a bunch of public servants armed with calculators. So what's the IRS doing to improve customer service?

HORSLEY: Customer service really suffered in recent years, especially during the depths of the pandemic. Last year, for example, 9 out of 10 phone calls to the IRS went unanswered. This year, though, the agency has hired 5,000 more people to help staff the phone lines.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE: Welcome to the Internal Revenue Service. To continue in English, press 1.

HORSLEY: Hold times have been cut from an average of 27 minutes last year to just four minutes this year. And Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says the agency is now consistently answering 80 to 90% of the incoming calls.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JANET YELLEN: That is a dramatic improvement compared to the previous filing season.

HORSLEY: Yellen says this $80 billion investment will transform the IRS into what she calls a modern, 21st century agency. That means more speedy online communication with taxpayers, less mailing of paper back and forth. Of course, there are always some folks who like doing things the old-fashioned way.

FADEL: Yeah. And you spoke with one of those people. Tell us about him.

HORSLEY: Yeah, I talked to Jay Zagorsky, who's a professor at Boston University's Questrom School of Business. He's a big believer in cash, which he says works even when the power goes out or the internet's down. He owed the government just over a thousand dollars in taxes this year, and, as an experiment, he tried to pay the bill in cash.

JAY ZAGORSKY: My goal was not to be a protest at all. As a matter of fact, I went to the bank and got crisp $100 bills and exact change to make this process as easy as possible for the IRS.

HORSLEY: Now, the IRS does have instructions on its website for how to pay in cash, but it's not easy. You have to make an appointment. Zagorsky actually had to make two trips to the IRS. Various retailers will accept cash payments for the agency, and you can buy a prepaid credit card and then pay online. But, you know, all those options have fees attached, and Zagorsky thinks it ought to be easier, especially for the 6 million people who don't have a bank account. Of course, a lot of those folks have the opposite problem - not how to pay additional taxes due, but how to affordably collect their refund.

FADEL: NPR's Scott Horsley. Thanks, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.