While looking for something else on the IRS website, I noticed a link I’d never checked out before and in a fit of procrastination I followed that link and found two IRS services I had missed.
The first IRS tool I found was the Interactive Tax Assistant (ITA). The IRS bills it as an interactive tax law resource for individual returns. The ITA asks a series of questions (ones that you would be asked if you called one of the IRS help numbers), to determine if the taxpayer is eligible for a credit or needs to file or can claim a dependent. Once the taxpayer chooses a question, the ITA suggests information they might need and how long the process should take and the questions begin. I selected the question, “Am I Eligible for Child Tax Credit?” ITA’s questions began with simple things like if I was a citizen and what year I was asking about. The next group of questions concerned my filing status and dependent “John”. When I said that I didn’t know if John was a dependent, the ITA opened a second ITA to see if he was dependent. Once it was determined that John was my dependent, the original ITA was back continuing the child tax credit questions and asking about income and tax. It also checked to see what other credits I might be claiming. When the ITA was finished, it gave me an idea of how much Child Tax Credit and Additional Child Tax Credit I could qualify to receive under the scenario I fed it. I could change answers or start over at anytime.
I do have a few issues with the ITA. First, this seems to be geared to someone who is preparing their return since in this example it asks for Adjusted Gross Income and computed tax in determining its answer. I wonder if the problem is that the ITA is trying to combine 2 different questions in one. If the taxpayer is filling in the 1040(A) dependent info and wants to know if they should check the CTC box, then they are getting more info than they need for that issue. But if they are checking to see how much they will get, then the ITA is giving them the answer they need while making them wade through qualifying the child. Maybe 2 questions would be better. The second big issue is that the ITA is limited to just a few basic questions. Finally, it has a search function that does not limit its search to ITAs as it states but shows results from the whole IRS website.
At the bottom of the ITA page is a link to Tax Trails. Tax Trails is also interactive and has a better range of questions available on more complicated subjects. It’s geared to determining eligibility for a deduction or credit by asking a few questions. It works like a flowchart by asking questions the taxpayer would find in a publication’s eligibility requirements. The Tax Trail for moving expenses first asks if the move is closely related to a changed or new job. Answer no and the interview is over since the taxpayer doesn’t qualify. Answer “yes” and the taxpayer gets the next qualifying question. Each question is on a separate page with background info on that question. As with ITA, Tax Trails’ number of questions is limited at this time. But it’s nice to see that there is little duplication between ITA and Tax Trails.
With the IRA facing budget cuts, costly customer service is going to take a hit. These two programs, Interactive Tax Assistant and Tax Trails could help pick up some of the questions from the public. However, the IRS needs to expand on what they have started and add a wider range and number of questions to both programs.