IRS Catching Up, but Not With Phones

Times Staff Writer

Despite the fact that only a small number of Californians will still be missing their federal income tax refunds by today’s official deadline, Internal Revenue Service telephones in Los Angeles have been so jammed with inquiries that other problems have developed, IRS officials said Friday.

Twenty-five auditors in the Los Angeles IRS district have been temporarily transferred from their regular duties to augment the information staff of 150 assigned to field telephone calls from taxpayers who want to know when they will get their refunds.

Robert Giannangeli, district public affairs office spokesman, said the transfer of auditors (the district has 300) will result in one-month postponements of about 800 scheduled audits.

13% Interest


But he said that if a delayed audit shows that an individual owes money, he or she still will be charged 13% annual interest compounded daily on the amount due.

On the other hand, taxpayers whose refunds have not been officially issued as of today will receive 13% interest compounded on a straight per annum basis, according to Giannangeli.

Marty Gomez, spokesman for the Fresno regional office of the IRS, said that while there were “some problems at the outset with the computer system,” the office--which handles income tax returns for California--found that the refund program worked better this year than last.

“We reached our program completion date by May 14 this year,” Gomez said, “as opposed to May 17 last year. That means the only people due refunds who will not receive them by the deadline (and therefore must be paid the 13% interest penalty) are those whose returns were sent back to correct errors. This number is minimal.”


Record Returns

But he said the exact figures will not be available for several weeks. The Fresno office processed a record 11.5 million income tax returns this year, Gomez said.

Giannangeli said that the income tax refund delay is less severe in California than in other parts of the country.

Nationally, the IRS has admitted, the number of “unpostable” returns was 1.5 million as of May 17, nearly double the backlog at the same time last year.


Giannangeli said that forms processed by the computer in Fresno must be sent on to the national computer center in Martinsburg, W. Va., for further processing. They are then returned to local offices, where refund checks are issued.

The special refund inquiry telephone number in Los Angeles is (213) 617-3177. Giannangeli said callers should have their Social Security numbers and copies of their income tax return forms at hand when they call.

Giannangeli said that it should require about 2 1/2 minutes for calls from touch-tone telephones to get through on this number. However, calls made by touch-tone telephone Friday afternoon were answered by a taped message that said: “The system is temporarily unavailable. Please call back in one hour.”