Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Appreciating the IRS

I think most of us spend more time complaining about the IRS than anything else, so I wanted to take the time to write about a recent good experience I had with them.

A few months ago, I found a refund check (remember refund checks?) at the bottom of a backpack. It was from 2004, so it was my refund for the 2003 tax year. Evidently I had gotten *this close* to depositing it at the bank, and then it was lost to the mysterious backpack black hole for almost eight years. The amount was a couple hundred dollars. Not life-changing, but definitely enough to be felt. That's a round-trip ticket to most domestic destinations, or all my utility bills for a month.

I had never really dealt with "found money" before. Sure, I've found a $20 bill in a jacket that I'd forgotten about, but nothing more substantial than that. My reaction was a mix of "yay!" and "oh damn, what if it's no good anymore?" Certainly it was too old to just cash at the bank. Enter the IRS.

I tried a few times to sort this out on the phone and then gave up. Hold times were long, and ultimately they told me I'd have to go in person to resolve this, which was not surprising. I made a copy of the check, confirmed that I had a few forms of ID on me, and then grabbed my Kindle and headed downtown.

The DC customer service center at 77 K Street NE was pretty much what I expected: a large, Dilbert-like world of cubicle offices and people waiting in chairs. However, everyone who worked there was unfailingly polite, from the security guards to the receptionist to the agent who ultimately helped me. The wait was long, and the atmosphere in the waiting room felt very much like the DMV. There were not a lot of people ahead of me, but time just seems to stand still in those places.

Finally they called my number! The agent I met was knowledgeable and courteous. He filled out the appropriate forms and told me they would reissue the check within ten days. I asked if I needed to do anything else, and he said no, they would just mail me the check. That was it; he sent me on my way. Barely a week later, I had a new check in hand.

I know not everyone has a good experience. Not every IRS employee will be as helpful as the ones I encountered, and sometimes even a good outcome means you are going to owe them a lot of money. Not fun. Still, it was obvious that they were dedicated public servants doing a thankless job with a good attitude and a sense of professionalism that I frankly did not expect. I can tell you that at least as far as the DC office goes, if you have a wait, it's because there just aren't enough of them. They are absolutely doing their best.

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