The government agency that collects our money is pretty broke. That's a problem.

"Several of our systems are not currently operating," begins an alarming statement from the IRS posted Feb. 3, 2016.

A hardware malfunction, which affected several computer systems at the Internal Revenue Service, apparently caused the tax agency to stop being able to accept electronically filed tax returns while "a number of taxpayer and tax practitioner tools" also became unavailable.



The IRS building. Where charitable donations can finally start doing you some good. Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images.

The IRS hardware meltdown doesn't exactly come at a good time, either. Mailboxes around the country are currently filling up with W2s, and Americans are making their plans to (postpone/ignore/avoid/procrastinate and then finally break down and begrudgingly) file their taxes.

The IRS is still investigating the exact scope and scale of the outage, saying in part:

"At this time, the IRS does not anticipate major refund disruptions; we continue to expect that 9 out of 10 taxpayers will receive their refunds within 21 days."

Side note: If you haven't gotten your official green tax-filing visor yet, be sure to pick one up. Photo via iStock.

Two of the services most affected by outages were the IRS's e-filing system, which lets you file your taxes electronically, and a program called Where's My Refund, which is a passive-aggressively named program that tracks your filed tax refund.

Both of these programs are modernized versions of the IRS's surprisingly outdated computer systems.

The IRS's tech capabilities are actually pretty alarming. Some of it (at least, as recently as 2007) is still being run on antiquated magnetic tape systems originating in the 1960s that are about as "cutting edge" as lead paint. I wouldn't be surprised if the inside of the IRS building still largely looks like it did when they filmed this introductory video in 1966:


"I have no idea what these buttons do." Video from U.S. National Archives/YouTube.

But unfortunately, reliance on old systems as well as the failure of new ones are only symptoms of a larger problem.

The IRS has been steadily defunded over the last several years; down about $2 billion from 2010 to 2014. That'd be a huge problem for any government agency, but for the IRS, it's particularly devastating.

"Vital federal services [have] suffered as funding has declined," reports the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "The IRS faces cost pressures common to most programs, such as a growing workload and the effects of inflation. But it also faces unique demands, such as the growing problem of identity theft and the tax compliance issues associated with offshore accounts."

Darrell Issa gives the international sign for "budget cuts" during a hearing about the IRS targeting scandal. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

The economy has been rapidly changing while operations at the IRS have struggled even to remain stagnant.

That problem could get worse, too. Much of the GOP wants to continue slashing the IRS's budget and presidential candidate Ted Cruz wants to abolish the IRS altogether.

The IRS is also dramatically understaffed. In 2014 (the year the IRS had to brace for Obamacare-related tax credits and code changes), nearly half of all customer calls were answered, and long lines were commonplace at filing centers across the country.

The staffing problem is even worse when you consider that the average age of an IRS contracting officer is 46, meaning that the vast majority of the IRS can soon retire.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen is well aware of the age problem in his agency. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

John Koskinen, Commissioner at the Internal Revenue Service addressed this problem in a statement in March, saying in part:

"I have advised our senior leadership that this is the last year that we will deal with budget constraints by freezing or severely limiting new hires into the agency. We have interesting and exciting career opportunities to offer to young people beginning their careers, and we need to encourage more of them to join the agency."

Selling a bureaucratic government agency to young people as an exciting career opportunity might be tough, though. The IRS has such a poor reputation that convincing anyone to work there is a challenge. Another government organization, the FBI, can't even get young people to stop smoking weed long enough to pass the necessary drug test to work for them, and they have those cool windbreakers. The IRS can't even offer that.

Not to mention the fact that no one under 45 knows how to use this thing:

Is it ... does it ... does it play music?

Long story short: Don't put off filing your taxes for too long this year.

The IRS needs a lot more help, but it won't be coming to save the day before your taxes are due this season. The IRS is busy getting their e-files back up to speed and still needs time to run your hastily scribbled information through a monolithic bookshelf while workers push a series of flashing buttons and (just guessing here) probably turn two keys at the exact same time to reveal a large red lever which, when pulled, spits your tax return out of a dot matrix printer while a siren wails in the background. Or something like that.

It's basically a Soviet-era Bond film in there. So get your taxes done now, before it's too late.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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via Wikimedia Commons and Goalsetter

America's ethnic wealth gap is a multi-faceted problem that would take dramatic action, on multiple fronts, to overcome. One of the ways to help communities improve their economic well-being is through financial literacy.

Investopedia says there are five primary sources of financial education—families, high school, college, employers, and the military — and that education and household income are two of the biggest factors in predicting whether someone has a high level of financial literacy.

New Orleans Saints safety, two-time Super Bowl Champion, and social justice activist Malcolm Jenkins and The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation hope to help bridge the wealth gap by teaching students about investing at a young age.

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.