Color of Money: Setting up an IRS online account is well worth your while

Michelle Singletary on

Before you start, you'll need some information about yourself to register, including your tax filing status. To verify your identity, the IRS will also need a number from one of your financial accounts, such as a credit card, auto loan, mortgage or home equity loan or line of credit. You won't be charged any money, and you won't be sharing any account balances or other financial information with the agency. If you've placed a credit security freeze with Experian -- the credit bureau that the IRS uses to verify your identity -- you'll need to have it temporarily removed before continuing.

Because this process involves verifying your identity with Experian, you may get a "soft inquiry" on your credit file. However, don't worry; such inquiries do not affect your credit score.

Next, and this is important, you need a mobile device. It's a second level of security. Whenever I sign on to my IRS account, I get a security code sent to my cellphone. But you must use a U.S.-based mobile phone number registered in your name, and it must be able to receive text messages. The number cannot be for a Pay-As-You-Go (prepaid), landline, Skype, Google Voice or virtual account.

You also have to provide an email address. I was able to get through most of the registration process, including choosing a username and password as well as setting up two other security measures.

However, I got sidelined when the IRS tried to verify my mobile number. I'm under a family plan, and I'm not the primary account holder. At this point, I opted to receive an activation code by postal mail. The IRS says it takes five to 10 business days to get the notice. It took me eight days. And once received, I had 30 days before my activation code expired.

If you get a notice about signing up for an online service and you didn't initiate the process, immediately contact the IRS online services information hotline at (888) 841-4648.

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One thing to keep in mind. You won't find refund-status information on your account. For that, go to

Don't be daunted by the process of creating an IRS online account. All the hoops you have to jump through are well worth it for your protection.


Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook ( Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group



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