Monday, February 1, 2010

Phone log with the NYS tax department dealing with the audit

According to the NYS Tax website, taxpayers can call them weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Here's my phone log.

8:20 a.m. Monday Feb 1

I called the phone number listed in my audit notice, which is the main number for billing, payments, and information, 518-457-5434.

I immediately connected to a voice menu, listened to the options, punched in 1 for "Personal income taxes," and then was invited to punch in my Social Security number, which I did. As soon as I punched in my SSN, a recorded voice message repeated my SSN back and asked me to press 1 to confirm it, which I did.

It then played the following message:

"The office is currently closed. Please call back during normal hours."

The message did not give any information as to what the supposedly "normal hours" are. The website says 8 to 5 on weekdays. It's 8:20 on a Monday.

Anyway, if I was calling outside the supposedly normal hours, why didn't the voice menu tell me that before inviting me to punch in information. If I'd been a low-income taxpayer worried about using up cell phone minutes, I would not be very pleased about this.

I'll keep trying.

8:32 a.m Called again. Went through the punching SSN, reading back and confirmation steps. This time I was quickly transferred to a very nice representative who gave his name as Steve, if I recall correctly. I explained that I wanted to explain the circumstances to disagree with the audit notice I had received. He asked again for my SSN, along with my name, address, home phone, and employer's names. I believe the reason for asking all this information was to confirm my identity before disclosing any sensitive information.

After I provided satisfactory answers to those inquiries, Steve politely but firmly stated that we owed New York State $84.08 and that we should pay that amount before February 25 to avoid additional interest and penalties.

When I reiterated that we wanted to explain the information we needed to provide to disagree with the bill, he said he would need to transfer my call to another department ("Audit Group 3") in order to get the information about the documents required to do that. He also helpfully gave me the direct number for Audit Group 3 in case I got disconnected and once again very politely but firmly advised that we should pay the bill by February 25 to avoid additional interest and penalty.

(This information repeatedly provided by Steve is very important for many taxpayers, who may be uncertain about whether their position is correct. If I were less than 100% confident that the position we took on our return was correct, I would consider following his advice to pay the amount in question before February 25 to stop the clock on the interest and penalties. If I later turned out to be correct, I could still file to get a refund of that amount, possibly with some interest. If I turned out to be incorrect, however, following Steve's admonition would have saved me interest, which is currently running at 7.5%, as well as possible penalties.)

8:38 a.m After Steve transferred me to the line for Audit Group 3, a recorded voice asked me to punch in my SSN yet another time, followed by a request to punch in my zip code. The recorded voice then informed me that all lines were busy, but predicted a wait time of approximately 7 minutes. So I waited on hold, listening to reasonably soothing if somewhat repetitive music, periodically interrupted by messages telling me that my call was important to them and encouraging me to consult the website for additional information.

8:54 a.m. After 14 minutes on hold, I reached a very helpful and efficient telephone rep who did not give her name. She again requested my SSN and my name and then told me we owed $84.08 on our 2006 New York taxes.

When I explained that we disagreed with the bill and explained our reasons, she listened and provided clear information about what we would need to do. We simply need to attach a letter to the audit notice disagreement form providing our daughter's name and SSN and stating that we had been entitled to claim her on our 2006 federal tax return but had chosen not to do so in order to allow her to get the education credit on her federal return. Once they get that information, they will be able to look up the information they have on our daughter's federal and state returns and confirm that our information is consistent with those returns.

I had hoped that perhaps she could just take the information about our daughter's name and SSN over the phone, but apparently not. I guess that it's understandable that they want to keep telephone calls short, to avoid making hold times even longer for other taxpayers, so I will go off to the Post Office later today and mail the letter via certified mail.

Although she did not tell me to do so, I will take special care to use the return envelope provided in the audit notice, since I understand that the window in the envelope will allow a barcode to show through to the outside that will expedite processing once it reaches the NYS Tax and Finance Department.

End of phone call: 8:56.

Total elapsed time for the phone call: 24 minutes, including 14 minutes on hold, four minutes talking to Steve, two minutes talking to the Audit Group 3 employee, and four minutes dealing with listening to voice menus and punching in numbers.

Plus an additional minute or so wasted on the 8:20 attempted phone call, where I was invited to punch in my SSN and confirm it before being told the office was closed and to call back during the unspecified "normal hours," and waiting another 10 minutes to call back after making the apparently correct guess that maybe 8:30 was the beginning of "normal hours."

It was a local call for me and we have unlimited local calling from our landline, so no phone charges for us. However, many low-income taxpayers have calling plans which might make those minutes a costly expense.

Still, all in all, it was not nearly as bad as I expected, especially since I imagine Monday morning right after W-2s come out must be a peak calling time for the tax department.

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