With Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) moving on to become US Ambassador to China, last year’s expectations for tax reform are out the window. The National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA), the association that represents the federally licensed tax practitioners who hold the highest credential awarded by the IRS, has released some prognostications for 2014.

1) The budget cuts Congress imposed on the IRS mean bad news for taxpayers. Levels of service at IRS, which weren’t that great anyway, will continue to deteriorate for taxpayers seeking answers and for tax professionals seeking assistance in representing clients in audits and collection actions.  As National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson said in her Annual Report to Congress, “If you are a tax professional trying to resolve a problem for a client, you have a 20-minute wait on the line inaptly named ‘Practitioner Priority Service.’”

2) Largely as a result of 1), the number of taxpayers paying to have their returns prepared will hit an all-time record high. Taxpayers are smart – they’re going to HIRE someone to spend the afternoon on hold with the IRS.

3) Identity theft losses will continue to grow: fraudulent filers will file early and walk away with other people’s refunds and phony emails from IRS will lure naïve taxpayers to sites where they will disclose personal and financial information.  The agency will continue to siphon staff from other areas to assist affected taxpayers, yet any taxpayer hit with an ID theft related problem will face long delays in resolving the issue (see 1)).

4) Silver lining: the IRS back office will deliver the filing season. The agency will make its projected refund turnaround time (90 percent of refunds issued within 21 days of filing) and returns will be processed free of software troubles.