MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The deadline to file taxes is right around the bend.
This year you may find the process a bit aggravating. As it turns out, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is extremely shorthanded meaning tax refunds make take a bit longer.
CBS4's David Sutta found out what one can do to get the money faster.
The Cartagena family, new U.S. Citizens, filed their first tax return ever this year and they said they're excited to get their first refund check.
"We need the money. We have been waiting since January," said Ingrid Cartagena. But it hasn't been that easy, Ingrid explained. "They need to verify our identity." The family tried to do just that at an IRS office in Plantation. When they arrived they were told they needed an appointment so she called—only to get a voice message. "It tells me to make an appointment on email," she said.
Steven Moore, another taxpayer CBS4 found outside the IRS office, said he had called too. Moore's missing part of his refund.
"I came down to talk to a live agent and they tell me ok I got to wait until sometime next week just to find out where's my money or what's going on," Moore explained.
John Trenor drove from Boca Raton for some simple forms, he said they didn't have them and handed him a form with what to do. "Use the web. I don't have a computer. I'm old. I'm not young like you," Trenor said.
The Plantation IRS office is one of 10 sites trying out a new pilot program this tax season.
Instead of taking a number, you have to schedule an appointment. But don't be mistaken—it's not all about convenience--it's set up that way because the IRS can't keep up with demands since Congress slashed their budget 17-percent this year.
The fallout means this tax season getting a live IRS agent may prove difficult. It's estimated less than half the people who call actually get through. And if you do, it's roughly an hour wait.
Karina Ron, the Director of United Way's Center For Financial Stability, has seen it firsthand.
"It has been challenging," Ron said.
Tax preparation centers like United Way's Financial Stability program have seen not only longer waits, but refunds delayed. Those who file their taxes by mail are waiting an extra week or two for their money.
"It's very frustrating because a lot of the families that we serve this is the most important time of the year," Ron said.
The taxpayer pain apparently has a lot to do with politics. Charles Zeldon, a Nova University Political Science professor explained that it's, "mostly politics. First of all nobody likes the tax man. So taking money away from the tax man is generally popular because we all hate paying taxes, it's the American way, and we hate the IRS because they are the big bully who takes our money and if we make mistake they come after us. So it's an easy sell."
Congress has been slicing the IRS budget for the past few years. Professor Zeldon said Republicans are attempting limit the size of government by limiting the ability to collect taxes. He blames Democrats are guilty of writing loopholes in the law so people don't have to pay their fair share. Zeldon said no one wins in the end.
"The problem is this: For every dollar we take away from them, that's usually a dollar or two dollars or three dollars we are not going to see coming into our coffers, that we legitimately should be seeing," Zeldon said.
With less staff, there are fewer audits to catch the crooks, less technology to catch identity fraud, and more mistakes on returns. The IRS is left trying to do more with less.
"The modern age. Get used to longer waits. Longer lines," Zeldon predicts.
Ron believes there may be some relief for taxpayers. A network of tax prep sites called VITA, short for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance. It's possible they may be able to find what you need without dealing with the IRS.
"A lot of people are tax professionals or retired accountants, financial coaches, people who can really help," she said. Best of all is the cost. Ron explained it's "Absolutely nothing. Absolutely free at no cost to you. However there are eligibility requirements." Basically if you make under $60,000 dollars the VITA program is available to you. There are sites across South Florida.
For more information on VITA call 305-688-6421. You can also go to: www.myfreetaxes.com
One final tip for those who have yet to file, if you file electronically you will get your refund back much quicker--in as little as seven to 14 days.
For those who are filing taxes the old fashioned way, via U.S. mail, can expect delays of a week or longer.
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