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More than 46,000 IRS employees called back to work to process refunds, calls

Key Points
  • The federal agency released its filing season contingency plan, saying it will retain about 57 percent of its workforce through the shutdown.
  • Audits have been halted and for now there’s no live customer service available via phone.
  • You should still prepare to file as early as you can. Tax season opens on Jan. 28.
John Ewing | Portland Press Herald | Getty Images

Just in time for tax season, the IRS is calling furloughed workers back to the office.

The federal agency sent out its updated contingency plan on Tuesday, amid the partial government shutdown that has gone on for more than three weeks.

More than 46,000 IRS employees will return to work. This represents about 57 percent of the agency's total workforce. The IRS has been subject to a furlough since Dec. 22.

VIDEO1:1201:12
Tax refunds will be issued despite government shutdown

The tax filing season is set to kick off on Jan. 28, and the IRS said it will provide refunds to eligible filers. However, the agency is operating with a reduced workforce, and its operations will be limited.

For instance, there's no live customer service via phone right now, but the agency will add workers to take your calls in the coming days, the IRS said. You should expect longer wait times.

Further, Taxpayer Assistance Centers — locations where you can seek help from the IRS in person — are closed. That makes things complicated for individuals who need to visit an IRS office to establish their identity in the event of identity theft.

Given these potential hiccups, you should submit your return as early as you can.

File soon
Getty Images

Millions of taxpayers submit their returns as soon as possible. These households often need their refunds to either reduce remaining holiday debt or boost their savings.

In 2018, the IRS opened season on Jan. 29.

By Feb. 2 — the end of that week — the agency received 18.3 million returns and processed 6.1 million refunds, with an average refund check of $2,035.

In all, the IRS received 154.4 million returns by Nov. 23 of last year, the most recent date available, and issued an average refund of $2,899.

"People shouldn't have to wait to get money back that's theirs," said Jeffrey Levine, CPA and director of financial planning at BluePrint Wealth Alliance in Garden City, New York.

"It's not their fault that the government is dysfunctional and shut down," he said

New systems, new forms
Nora Carol Photography | Getty Images

The shutdown is taking place at a busy time for the IRS, accountants and filers.

This filing season marks the first under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act — an overhaul of the tax code that went into effect at the beginning of 2018.

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Here are your income tax changes for 2019

Last year, the new tax code roughly doubled the standard deduction to $12,000 for singles and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. The law also limited a number of itemized deductions, including placing a $10,000 limit on the amount of state and local taxes filers can deduct.

You will also be dealing with new tax forms, as the Form 1040 has been shrunken to the size of a postcard. You will still need to work through pages of schedules to calculate other tax breaks.

More from Personal Finance
IRS confirms tax season will start Jan. 28, despite government shutdown
Do-it-yourself online filers may need to ask for some help this tax season
The shutdown won't give you any reprieve from this Jan. 15 tax deadline

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