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Dealing with the Feds

I think it's safe to say that, of all the federal government agencies, the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) is the most unpopular one. Or to put it in more plain language and to say it more bluntly, IRS is the most feared and hated federal agency.

At the very least nobody likes to hear from IRS.

But this time, it is different.

Starting in May, the IRS began sending economic stimulus payments to more than 130 million households, thanks to the stimulus package passed by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush in February 2008. The law seeks to stimulate business investment, boost the U.S. economy and to avert a recession.

Like everyone eligible for the tax rebates, I was actually looking forward to hearing from the IRS and get my family's share of rebates.

We received two notices at the end of June and beginning of July. But instead of rebates, we found out that the IRS made a change to our 2007 tax return. As a result, we owed the IRS more taxes plus interest.

Even after our economic stimulus payment was credited to our account, we still owed the IRS money.

This was the first time we heard from IRS in the more than 10 years we have been filing tax returns.

The big adjustment made to our account was due to the unmatched social security number.

I checked the social security numbers on the tax return and they all looked fine. I've used them and have not had a problem in the last ten years.

So, I called the IRS to find out how to fix the problem.

I waited on the phone for about ten minutes. Then I spoke with a real person. I gave her the social security numbers from the 2007 tax return. She said one of them didn't match with the name and I needed to send in a copy of the social security card for verification.

I commented that I never had any problems with social security numbers in the past. Her response was "I am not going to argue with you."

Before I could ask another question, she hung up on me.

I didn't even realize that until I finished my question and didn't hear any response. Our conversation was only about one or two minutes long.

I wasn't trying to argue with her at all. But her tone of voice and her action were very unprofessional and rude to me.

Later, after getting out all the social security cards and double checking my son's social security number, I noticed that I had two numbers next to each other in reverse order.

I guess I was too self-confident of doing everything right that I didn't catch the error, even though I checked it.

Admittedly, I made a dumb mistake. But still, I don't think I deserved to be treated so rudely by the IRS employee.

Had I experienced this kind of customer service from a private company, I probably would have contacted the company to complain and voice my dissatisfaction.

But what can you do with the IRS? It's better to stay away from it. I am not going to waste my time and energy to deal with its bureaucracy.

Luckily, when I called the IRS back the next day, I talked to a nice person who said "Please" and "Thank you" a few times. After my explaination, she adjusted my return.

Before I hung up the phone, I said to her: "Thank you for being so nice. I wish everyone at the IRS is so nice like you."

I don't fear or hate the IRS. But now I can understand a little better why many people do fear and hate it.

In the last few months I had another frustrating experience with a different federal agency through my job.

In February, I contacted the agency to straighten out a few problems regarding our purchase account.

I called, talked to people, left messages and e-mailed. But so far, after six months of dealing with three different individuals, I still haven't got satisfied answers to the few questions and problems I have.

For me, they are very straightforward and easy-to-answer questions. They don't require much brain work. It just doesn't make sense to me why that is so difficult for them to do.

I can not believe how unresponsive and inefficient these people are.

I know I shouldn't generalize everything. There are always good and bad employees every where, just like my IRS experience showed. I believe the majority of the fed employees are good. But still, a couple of bad apples can spoil the whole bunch, or leave a bad taste.

I think it's fair to say that the feds need more accountability check to improve their services and increase their efficiency. They are here to help and serve the citizens. They should do a better job.

For now, I am just relieved that we don't own the IRS any more taxes and we can receive the majority of our economic stimulus payment soon.

As for my son, he will have to wait for the next tax return to get his share of the rebate, because the amount of economic stimulus payments is based on the 2007 return. Adjustments can only be made next year.

I wish I had not made this one small mistake. Now that I have learned my lesson, I am sure it will not happen again.