What Is the IRS? What Do They Do?

By Jacqueline DeMarco · February 13, 2024 · 7 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

What Is the IRS? What Do They Do?

One adulting rite of passage is getting familiar with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the government organization that manages the American tax system. When doing so, you learn to file your taxes, figure out what you might owe, or see whether a refund could be heading your way. Perhaps you need to pay estimated taxes quarterly.

The IRS doesn’t just collect money, though. It also helps enforce tax laws and provides resources for taxpayers so they can meet their tax responsibilities.

Read on to learn more detail about this, including:

•   What is the IRS? What is the IRS responsible for?

•   When do you need to interact with the IRS?

•   What are some ways to contact the IRS?

•   What are some tax-filing tips?

What Is the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)?

Who is the IRS? As briefly noted earlier, the IRS is the government organization that manages the American tax system and enforces internal revenue laws.

The IRS also provides American taxpayers with the resources and services they need to understand their tax responsibilities. It also works with taxpayers to make sure they are complying with tax laws and meet their tax obligations. It can be hard to understand your taxes, but the IRS does provide many online resources that can help educate consumers.

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What Is the IRS Responsible For?

So, what does the IRS do? These are some responsibilities they help American citizens with:

•   Applying for Employee Identification Numbers (EINs)

•   Understanding and executing tax preparation

•   Providing tax forms

•   Making tax payments

•   Requesting tax refunds.

Recommended: 41 Things to Do With a Tax Refund

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History of the IRS

The IRS dates back to 1862 when, during the Civil War, President Lincoln and Congress worked together to create the position of commissioner of Internal Revenue. This was done to introduce income tax that could help pay for war expenses. That particular income tax was repealed just 10 years later, revived in 1894, and was then ruled unconstitutional just a year later.

Over the years, changes were made to the tax system. In the 1950s, the IRS was reorganized (formerly known as the Bureau of Internal Revenue). Almost five decades later, the Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 modernized the IRS, and, to a large extent, it became what we know today.

Recommended: Are Overdraft Fees Tax-Deductible?

When Might You Need to Interact With the IRS?

Interacting with the IRS is a regular occurrence for American taxpayers. These are some examples of times when people need to engage with the IRS.

Filing Taxes

One of the main functions of the IRS is providing a system for Americans to file their taxes. This can now be done online and is free to do. (It’s wise to avoid missing the tax-filing deadline so you won’t be liable for any penalties.)

Making Tax Payments

It’s also possible to make a variety of payments through the IRS, depending on the different types of taxes you may owe. This can be done in full, or the taxpayer can make partial payments as a part of an approved payment plan. The IRS can charge interest and penalties until the full balance is paid.

Making Tax Corrections

If someone needs to make corrections on a return they already filed, they can do so with the help of the IRS. They can do this by filing an amended return. They can use Form 1040-X, which is an amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.

Tips for Contacting the IRS

If someone needs help with their taxes, they have a few options for how they can contact the IRS for support.

By Phone

Monday through Friday, it’s possible to contact the IRS by phone. (Any residents of Hawaii or Alaska will want to follow Pacific time when planning their calls. Puerto Rico phone lines are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. local time.)

Need help preparing for tax season? The type of tax support someone needs can impact which phone number is best to call:

•   Individuals


   7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time

•   Businesses


   7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time

•   Non-profit taxes


   8 a.m. to 5 p.m. local time

•   Estate and gift taxes (Form 706/709)


   10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern time

•   Excise taxes


   8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time

•   Callers who are hearing impaired

   TTY/TDD 800-829-4059

In Person

It’s also possible to receive assistance in person if the taxpayer is able to visit one of the IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center Offices. The IRS has a Taxpayer Assistance Center Office Locator that makes it easy to find the closest office.

Tax-Filing Tips

Need to file taxes? These are some tax-filing tips that can make the process easier:

•   Get a head start. Whenever possible, it’s best to start preparing your taxes early. That way, if an issue arises, there is time to resolve it. Filing earlier can give the filer more time to find any missing information they realize they need during the filing process.

   Also, the sooner you file, the sooner you’ll get any refund you may be due, so you won’t waste time wondering, “Where is my tax refund?”

•   Keep things accurate. While mistakes do happen, whenever possible, it’s best to file an entirely accurate tax return to help avoid the risk of launching an IRS audit trigger. You may want to work with a professional tax preparer or use tax software to help with this.

•   Plan ahead for extensions. It’s possible to request a tax-filing extension to send in your materials the following October instead of April. However, it’s still necessary to make a good faith estimate about what is owed and pay it. Otherwise, there is a risk of penalties and interest.

   If someone is worried they will need to ask for an extension, it’s best to make that plan sooner rather than later so they can make their estimated payment on time.

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The Takeaway

Taxes are an unavoidable part of life. While few people like paying taxes and most people would rather not interact with the IRS, the IRS does provide a variety of resources. These tools can help make the process of paying taxes and receiving refunds as simple as possible.

Getting ready for tax season is an important way for consumers to stay on top of their financial life. Opening a new bank account is a great way to get ready to receive a tax refund if you’re expecting one.

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How can I pay my taxes to the IRS?

The IRS gives taxpayers a variety of options for how they can pay their taxes. You can do this via a transfer from your bank account, by using a debit card or credit card, or through a digital wallet such as PayPal. You can also pay by check, money order, or cashier’s check through the mail. You may pay by cash at certain retail partners and IRS locations.

Am I able to contact the IRS?

It is possible to contact the IRS by phone (there are different support lines designed for different types of tax issues). If someone lives near one of the IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center Offices, they also have the option to receive support in person.

What are some myths about the IRS?

Most myths surrounding the IRS are about how to learn what the date of a refund will be. For example, some people believe they can call the IRS to get their refund date or can order a tax transcript to achieve this, but neither is true. Other myths include that paying taxes is voluntary and that pets qualify as dependents; those are not true either.

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