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The IRS is struggling to hire, which means a massive backlog of tax returns and refunds, government watchdog says

Still waiting for your tax refund? Blame the processing backlog on an IRS staff shortage. And broken printers.

During a recent online discussion about the upcoming May 17 tax deadline, many readers submitted questions expressing frustration about returns not yet processed and refunds delayed much longer than usual.

Where’s my tax refund? The Post’s personal finance columnist answers your tax deadline questions.

“Any idea when the IRS may issue me my tax refund for 2019?” one taxpayer asked. “I was unable to apply that refund to my 2020 tax liability. They have kept my money for over a year but want me to send them more money for 2020. It’s unsettling.”

Another wrote: “Our return was digitally filed in late February. Last year our return was flagged for potential identity fraud, so this year we included a personal PIN. We still haven’t received our refund and are trying to figure out if it is just a delay or whether it’s likely our return was flagged again.”

“I had H&R Block prepare my taxes,” another desperate readerwrote. “The return was electronically filed on March 18 with direct deposit information. I received the state refund within 10 days, but have yet to receive the Federal. When I go to ‘Where’s My Refund,’ I am told it is being processed. How much longer do I wait before I contact the IRS, if that is even an option?”

Many just wanted to know whether it was something they did.

It’s not you. It’s the backlog and staffing shortage at the IRS and broken copiers and printers at the agency’s processing centers. In some cases, printers are just out of ink or the waste cartridge container is full.

Long before the 2021 tax season started, we knew there would be problems, because the pandemic shut down IRS offices. Then the agency had to send out tens of millions of stimulus payments.

The IRS is looking to send $1.3 billion in refunds for people who didn’t file a 2017 return

So, it came as no surprise when an interim report about the 2021 filing season from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) office found that more than 8.3 million individual tax returns and transactions remained to be processed at the end of 2020, representing more than a 1,200 percent increase from a normal filing season.

Tax refund delays reported, some of the reasons it may be happening

INDIANAPOLIS – Just over one month has passed since the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) began processing tax returns, but delays are already being reported by many who filed their taxes.

Between meeting the demands of processing a third round of stimulus payments, recent changes in tax laws, and backlogs due to the pandemic, many people are waiting weeks for an update on the status of their tax refunds.Third stimulus check: What it means for Social Security recipients 

“I filed February 12th and, you know, got accepted a couple days after,” said Monique Ray, who lives in Indianapolis.

Ray said she confirmed through the IRS’ Where’s My Refund tool that her payment had been accepted, and soon after, the status bars on the website disappeared.

“I got a message on the Where’s My Refund saying that ‘your refund is still being processed and a date will be given when available,’” she explained. “It’s still saying that to this day.”Status of stimulus check: How to check on your payment 

This past year, Ray lost her son just 51 days after he was born. Adding to the financial challenges she faced after his passing, she said she recently lost her job.

Ray said she has been unable to reach anyone at the IRS to find out how much longer it will be before she can get the money she worked all year for.

“It’s really difficult, you know, trying to play catch up,” she said.

The IRS said they are dealing with a high call demand with millions of people calling in so far this tax season. They have about 13,760 phone assistors, including about 3,800 hired this filing season alone.

According to the IRS, a “typical tax refund with no issues goes out in 21 days or less.”

“It’s been over 21 days — beyond 21 days,” Ray said.

The IRS told FOX59, “If there is an issue with a tax return that requires additional review, that can add time for some taxpayers, but it varies depending on the issue. Many factors can affect the timing of a refund.”

Experts say there are several other factors contributing to delays in tax refunds.

The IRS is working through a backlog of processing tax returns for 2019 submitted last year, along with continuing to work through the impacts of COVID-19, which created staffing shortages and closures.

“Everything that I hear and read from the IRS points really just to one issue and that is that they’re behind,” said CPA John Helms, who is the president of J.R. Helms and Associates.

“They’re still trying to catch up from last winter and into summer and early spring when they were shut down like a lot of businesses.”

Dozens of Hoosiers told FOX59 they filed their taxes and received notification they were accepted but are still seeing delays exceeding 21 days.

“I do not believe there’s anything wrong with current e-filings. It’s in the computer system,” said Helms. “It would seem the computer should be kicking those checks out but they’re just very behind.”

Once a tax return is filed and accepted by the IRS, there isn’t much a person can do besides wait and monitor the IRS’ website for the status of their refund.

“If it’s e-filed once it’s accepted unfortunately if you paid someone to prepare and e-file your return, they have no access to it at that point,” Helms explained.

He said there’s no back door tax advisors can go through to get answers on the status of a person’s tax refund and getting through to the IRS through long wait times might be difficult.

“It’s a bad situation, but unfortunately we’re all currently caught in it.”

To add even more on the plate of the IRS, it is currently working to process a third round of stimulus payments and deal with recent changes in tax laws.

“IRS employees are continuing to work hard to deliver tax refunds as soon as possible while also delivering critical Economic Impact Payments to taxpayers in record time,” said the IRS.

Helms said the information is rapidly changing when it comes to what people need to know as they file their tax returns this season.

“If it relates to the stimulus bill, the credits, the rebates, that information is changing daily,” he shared. “We may give you an answer today, and it may not be the same answer in two weeks, or even tomorrow.”

With the tax filing deadline extended to mid-May, Helms says he doesn’t believe it will extend wait times for refunds.

“I don’t see that it’ll help them, but I don’t believe that it will extend them,” said Helms.

“Filing will decrease over the next three or four weeks, obviously it’s only a month extension, but many people will take advantage of it,” he said, noting that this should lessen the volume that the IRS is dealing with.

Some question whether processing delays could increase if people who have already filed their taxes need to submit amended tax returns following up on recent changes, such as tax breaks.

“The IRS has actually come out and said do not amend your tax returns,” said Helms.

He said people who have already filed and have been taxed on unemployment are being advised not to file an amended return.

Helms said, “They haven’t explained whether they mean don’t file one yet or whether they don’t file one at all because the IRS thinks that they will correct it.”

Response from the IRS

FOX59 reached out to the IRS for a statement on delayed tax returns and what people need to know. The IRS issued the following statement:

“IRS employees are continuing to work hard to deliver tax refunds as soon as possible while also delivering critical Economic Impact Payments to taxpayers in record time. This is an unprecedented time for the IRS given the pandemic, new tax laws and three rounds of stimulus payments. This scenario is unfolding at a time when the IRS has fewer resources and staffing than a decade ago.

The IRS knows this is a desperate time for taxpayers, and we continue to do everything we can to help. We continue to deliver tax refunds to people as fast as possible, with an average of more than 1 million refunds being issued every day to the nation’s taxpayers.

The IRS is handling more responsibilities at a time when its budget and staffing have been sharply reduced during the last decade. As the Congressional Budget Office and others have noted, the IRS budget and staffing is down about 20 percent – meaning the IRS has 20,000 fewer people available to help on tax season and other issues.

Tax refunds: A typical tax refund with no issues goes out in 21 days or less. Typically, nine out of 10 refunds filed electronically go out in this time frame. Through March 5, the IRS has issued 36 million refunds following the Feb. 12 start of tax season.

If there is an issue with a tax return that requires additional review, that can add time for some taxpayers, but it varies depending on the issue. Many factors can affect the timing of a refund. Common errors the IRS is seeing this filing season include people not reporting their Economic Impact Payments accurately on the Recovery Rebate Credit line. Tax returns with an error, incomplete information or those affected by identity theft or fraud may take longer to process. If more information is needed to process the return, the IRS will send the taxpayer a letter with a request for information.

Online tools help avoid delays: We urge people to visit and use tools like “Where’s My Refund” and “Get My Payment” for the quickest assistance. Filing electronically with direct deposit is the quickest way to receive a refund; it’s even more important during the pandemic to avoid filing a paper return if at all possible.

We are still working through the impacts of COVID-19, which created staffing shortages and closures. For example, our phone lines continue to be very busy with high call demand with millions of people calling in so far this tax season. We currently have about 13,760 phone assistors, including about 3,800 hired this filing season. We hope to onboard another 1,000 phone assistors using funding associated with the American Rescue Plan.”

Where’s my tax refund? Why IRS checks are still delayed

CHICAGO — Waiting on your IRS refund? You aren’t alone. Nearly 15 million people are waiting too.

The only two certainties in life are said to be death and taxes, but not a timely tax refund. Frustrated taxpayers want to know the status of their federal refund.

CHICAGO — Waiting on your IRS refund? You aren’t alone. Nearly 15 million people are waiting too.

The only two certainties in life are said to be death and taxes, but not a timely tax refund. Frustrated taxpayers want to know the status of their federal refund.

“There’s no way to break through the IRS wall of communication,” retired technology professional Ken Gillig said. He filed his income tax returns 105 days ago, back in April and is expecting a return of more than seven thousand dollars. He’s spent hours and hours trying to get through to the IRS on the phone only to be disconnected by an automated line.

So he started checking the status of his 2020 return on the IRS’s website.

“It’s given the same message ‘your return is being processed’,” said Gillig. Then he tried requesting a written summary of his return and got a different message. “There’s just one line up here that says ‘no record of return filed’. I don’t know which to believe. I can’t get information out from the IRS, especially, just ‘do you have it?'”

The IRS is prohibited from talking about specific cases, like Gillig’s but told the I-Team that as of July 24, they had 14.7 million unprocessed individual returns. They are making progress, back in June, the federal agency’s backlog was nearly 35 million unprocessed returns, due to the pandemic

The federal agency’s website currently states that “…all paper and electronic individual returns received prior to April 2021 have been processed if the return had no errors or did not require further review.”

The IRS says many filings need further review because they are incomplete, include errors or are affected by theft or fraud.

Gillig’s frustration is echoed many taxpayers who want to know where they stand.

“It would be nice to have a channel into them to just get basics. I’m not pressuring them for the money now, just ‘do you have it?'” Gillig said.

The IRS says if a filing has an error it could take more than three weeks to issue a refund. When possible, they’ll be fixed without contacting the taxpayer.

If the IRS needs more information, a letter will be mailed and the taxpayer needs to respond promptly to get their refund.

Statement to the I-Team from the IRS:

The IRS understands the importance of timely processing of tax returns and refund issuance. The IRS is also still operating under COVID health and safety restrictions to ensure the health and safety of our workers. Tax returns are opened and processed in the order received.

As of July 24, 2021, the IRS had 14.7 million unprocessed individual returns.

These include tax year 2020 returns that need further review for many reasons, including:

Being incomplete

Affected by identity theft or fraud
Have errors such as an incorrect Recovery Rebate Credit amount
Claim an Earned Income Tax Credit or an Additional Child Tax Credit using 2019 income.
Includes a Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation, which could take up to 14 weeks to process

This work requires special handling by an IRS employee and is taking the IRS more than 21 days to issue any related refund. If a problem can be fixed without contacting the taxpayer, it will be and a notice of the change will be mailed. If more information is needed, a letter will be mailed to the taxpayer. The time to resolve the issue depends on how quickly and accurately the taxpayer responds.

Taxpayers are encouraged to check Where’s My Refund? for their refund status. However, while a return is being processed, neither Where’s My Refund? or IRS phone representatives will be able to provide any additional information or a specific refund date.

You didn’t specify what type of refund, so you may want to look at IRS news release IR-2021-159, IRS continues unemployment compensation adjustments, prepares another 1.5 million refunds. It has information about the IRS working to send refunds to taxpayers who were identified as filing and paying taxes on unemployment compensation that was excluded by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 in March. Since May, the IRS has automatically determining the correct taxable amount of unemployment compensation and has issued more than 8.7 million unemployment compensation refunds. The IRS will continue reviewing and adjusting tax returns in this category this summer.

You may also want to look at IRS news release IR-2021-139 National Taxpayer Advocate assesses tax filing season and identifies areas for IRS improvement in mid-year report to Congress.

Tax Return and Tax Refund Status

Important: The IRS began processing (accepting or rejecting) 2020 returns on February 12, 2021. Since then, they have opened their “Where’s My Refund?” tool. If your 2020 tax return status filed in 2021 is still being processed after you have filed your return, the IRS has confirmed that they are backlogged on processing and issuing refunds. Once you file your return on, your status will change – if it is Accepted, the IRS has acknowledged and accepted your return. The IRS “Where’s My Refund?” tool may show that you have not provided enough information or that your return is still processing. This is due to delays caused by many complications; for example, problems related to stimulus payments. It may show that your 2020 tax return is still being processed; it is important to understand that your tax return was accepted, but your tax refund is processing in this case.

Find details below for Tax Year 2020 tax returns and refunds due on April 15 – May 17, 2021. Once a tax return has been e-filed, the IRS will process it before issuing a refund, if owed. A tax refund is any tax you overpaid during a tax year combined with tax credits and can be returned via direct deposit, a prepaid debit card, or a mailed check. See how to pay your due tax if you are not owed a refund.Status

Before you check where your tax refund money is, please check your tax return status through your account and make sure that your tax return has been accepted by the IRS. This is displayed on the home page when you log in.

Generally, you can get tax refund information 72 hours after the IRS has acknowledged the receipt of your e-filed tax return, or three-to-four weeks after mailing a paper tax return. Before you check your tax refund status under Step 2 below, make sure you have a copy of your tax return handy. You will need to provide the following information from your tax return:

Step 1: Check your Tax RETURN Status

  1. Check your tax return on (only if you prepared and e-filed at If you e-filed your tax return at a different site, please sign in to your account on that site; cannot provide tax return status information for other websites or tax offices.
  2. Sign in to your existing account and you will see the status of your prepared and e-filed tax return:
    • Not e-filed | In Progress
    • Pending
    • Accepted
    • Rejected
  3. If your return is rejected, you can correct any errors and e-file again until your return is accepted at no additional charge. If your tax return was rejected by the IRS – not – for any reason, you will find detailed instructions on how to correct minor errors. The rejection reason is stated and you will be given details as well as a link to fix the issue. For specific assistance, please contact support so we can guide you through the required corrections.
  4. If you have further questions about the status of your return, you can also call the IRS Tax Assistance Hotline: 1-800-829-1040 (Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. local time).

Step 2: Check your Tax REFUND Status

Only after your tax return is accepted by the IRS can you expect your tax refund. How your refund is released by the IRS depends on which refund method you selected when you e-filed or filed your return.

1. Direct Bank Deposit: Your tax refund will be electronically transferred directly from the IRS (U.S. Treasury) to the bank account you entered during your tax preparation on

Go to this page to find your refund status and check in this order:

  • Tax refund dates in the table for different deposit methods.
  • Your tax refund status via the lookup tool.
  • Contact your bank or call the IRS Refund Hotline: 1-800-829-1954

2. Direct Deposit with e-Collect – Deduct Fee From Refund (DFFR): If you paid your tax preparation fee via e-Collect, your tax refund will be transferred from the IRS to the e-Collect partner, EPS Financial, and then to your bank account, minus the tax preparation fee (for Deluxe or Premium service plus state preparation, if applicable). A service processing fee (e-Collect fee) of only $24.95 will be charged for this service. This fee is charged by EPS Financial, not, and will be automatically deducted from your tax refund.

If you choose this option, you will need to visit the EPS website and create an account in order to check the status of your refund. Once you have an account, you will be able to track the status of your refund and the expected date of your deposit. Your funds will be transferred from the IRS to EPS, and then to your bank account (minus the $24.95 e-Collect fee).

Visit this page to find your refund status, then check the following:

  • Tax refund dates,
  • Tax refund status, and
  • The refund status with EPS via the link in the table: e-Collect Refund Status Lookup

Note: If you contacted the IRS and they informed you that your refund was transferred to a bank or a bank routing number different than the routing number of your bank, don’t worry. The IRS and eFile are not banks, thus the e-Collect partner, EPS Financial, was instructed (with a unique routing number) to transfer your tax refund to your bank.

3. E1 Visa® Prepaid Card by Mail (Issued by EPS Financial): If you selected to have your tax preparation fee deducted from your expected tax refund, but you do not have a bank direct deposit account, you can select to have your refund put on an E1 Visa® Prepaid Card. You should expect to receive the card in the mail 7-10 days after the IRS accepts your tax return. Once EPS processes your fees, the remainder of your refund will be deposited onto the card.

You can view this page to find your refund status before checking in this order:

  • View tax refund dates,
  • Get your tax refund status via the tool, and
  • Check your refund status with EPS.

Note: If the IRS distributed your refund to a bank you do not recognize, this is the temporary bank account set up by EPS financial to process your refund and issue your refund.

4. IRS Check by Mail: Once your tax return has been received and processed, the IRS will issue you a paper check and send it through the post office. It generally takes about twice as long as direct deposit to receive your refund in the mail.

Check in this order on this page detailing your refund status:

  • Tax refund dates,
  • Tax refund status, then
  • Call the IRS refund hotline: 1-800-829-1954

If you have questions or concerns about obtaining your tax refund status, please contact support.

Learn more about unclaimed tax refunds or tax refunds that did not reach the recipient. See different levels of tax preparation and e-filing services on Review how the eFile app works before you sign up for a free account to e-file your 2020 Tax Return.

Expert: IRS ‘pleading for patience’ when it comes to federal tax returns

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — If you’re among the millions of Americans who filed their taxes and are still awaiting a refund, a tax expert tells 12 News that unfortunately, you’ll just have to sit tight.

Last week, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) began sending out payments to people who overpaid taxes on unemployment benefits. As many as 13 million people could qualify for those payments, if they filed their taxes prior to mid-March.

Hundreds of viewers have written into 12 Responds saying they filed their taxes around that time but have yet to receive the return they’re owed.IRS sending out 4 million ‘surprise’ tax refunds this week 

Melissa Travis, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Society of CPAs, said there’s growing concern about the number of people who filed an amended return after the Biden administration issued an unemployment tax exemption under the American Rescue Plan.

Passing along information from the IRS Communications and Stakeholders Liaison Office, Travis said, “There is no need for most taxpayers to take this action or have a CPA amend the return because the IRS put a process in place to automatically process the refunds.”

The IRS has so far issued four million refunds for overpayment compensation, according to Travis.

“The amount varies depending on many factors, but the average refund amount is $1,265,” she explained.

Travis said those who are calling to check on the status of their return or about an amended return are adding to the backlog at the IRS.

“They’re just pleading for patience,” Travis added.

She said there are three main reasons for the backlog:

  • IRS employees continuing to work remotely
  • Sending out the economic impact payments took time away from processing returns
  • There’s currently a staffing shortage

“They have had record numbers of people in retirement,” Travis said. “They had very aged staff at the IRS.”12 Responds: Why have I not received my federal tax refund yet? 

If you filed electronically and are still waiting for your refund, Travis said the first thing you should do is double-check you got confirmation from the IRS that your tax information was accepted, either by email or text.

“We’ve seen 30% of people who are waiting for their refunds, when they filed, did not actually receive a confirmation,” she said. “That’s a great starting point for you to know that your return was actually accepted for processing by the IRS and actually is in the process.”

The IRS may also need additional information from you. In that case, the agency will send a letter.

“Don’t panic when you get that letter. That’s actually a really good thing,” Travis added. “That letter will contain the specific instructions for how you can verify whatever the IRS is looking for.”IRS: Check on the status of your refund 

“They’ll give you a very specific instructions on how to verify your information or how to log into the system to do that,” she continued.

According to Travis, as of July 3, the IRS had more than 16 million unprocessed individual tax returns.

If your return is being processed, Travis urged you not to submit another return or call the IRS.

“According to the National Taxpayer Advocate, technically only about 7% of the phone calls right now are being answered by the IRS,” Travis said. “I feel terrible telling people that they can’t call, because I know how frustrating it must be.”

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