IRS Commissioner John Koskinen is giving us fair warning: budget cuts eliminating IRS resources are going to mean long hold times if you need to call during the 2015 tax season. He told CPAs at an annual AICPA conference, “Phone service could plummet to 53%.” 

And that would be down from 72% during the 2014 filing season. The average hold time projection: 34 minutes. But with the smallest budget in decades, there’s not much that can be done about it. As Koskinen says, “All we can do is try to maximize our services as well as we can; as well as we can is still going to be miserable. You really do get what you pay for,” he said.

Forbes interviewed National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson and reports that five factors are making this tax season painful. 

  1. Budget cuts. The House has voted to cut the IRS budget for 2015 by $341 million, and the Senate has proposed to increase it by $240 million—that would still be 7% below 2010 funding levels.
  2. Heavier workload. At the same time it’s voting to cut the IRS budget, Congress is passing laws that the IRS has to implement. For example, the IRS requested $430 million in 2014 from Congress to implement the ACA but got zero, forcing it to take money out of enforcement and taxpayer services budgets.
  3. FATCA. A new withholding requirement for taxpayers with accounts overseas will mean an additional burden on IRS services. There is currently no process for these taxpayers to get questions answered (there’s no toll-free number for them to call), and their refunds will be delayed.
  4. Tax extenders. Because Congress waited until December to vote to retroactively extend some tax provisions, the IRS has to scramble to reprogram outdated computer systems to take the extenders into account.
  5. IRS voluntary oversight program for return preparers. With all the scamming and poor quality service being done by uncertified tax return preparers, the IRS is implementing a voluntary oversight program. Tax preparers can opt in to participate, and the IRS is making available a list of preparers in the program. It’s a badly-needed program, but an additional stress on limited resources. 

If you can avoid calling the IRS this tax season, you’ll want to consider other options. The IRS has made available a resource called Where’s My Refund, where you can track the status of your return. You can also use the IRS direct pay system, a secure online option for making tax payments just like you’d place an order online.