[Updates from latest GAO report] The anger and resentment is building up across millions of American tax payers who have been waiting weeks, if not months, to get their overdue IRS refunds and/or stimulus payments.
The IRS recently reported that they still have nearly 16 million unprocessed individual returns, which does not include amended returns (lower priority). This back log of unprocessed tax returns – covering current and past tax years – is a direct cause of delays in other IRS payments (e.g. Monthly CTC payments) which are dependent on a filers latest tax return data.
What’s worse is that many are waiting hours to talk to a live agent (see next section) and even if they get through to someone, they are just sent down further rabbit holes without much help or clarity to resolve their issues.
In a recent GAO report it was confirmed that delays and communication failings at the IRS are real (you are not alone) and unfortunately not getting better anytime soon. Key findings include:
- As of the end of the 2021 filing season, IRS had about 25.5 million unprocessed individual and business returns, including about 1.2 million returns from its 2020 backlog. This is nearly triple the amount pending at the end of the last tax season. As of July 2021, the backlog has dropped considerably, but still at record highs.
- IRS staff must manually review nearly 14 million tax returns with errors. These take much longer and if you are caught in this review then if could take months to get paid any overdue refunds (IRS has to pay interest) and related downstream payments.
- Overall the IRS processed around 150 million returns, so the unprocessed and errored returns make up nearly 25% of all returns. That’s a lot!
- With significantly more returns currently being held for manual review than in prior years, more taxpayers are struggling to get information about the status of their returns and refunds either by phone or online. The IRS’ website does not contain all of the relevant information regarding delays in processing 2021 returns and issuing taxpayers’ refunds.
- Additionally, IRS’s automated message on its toll-free telephone line for individual taxpayers has not been updated to explain refund delays or to include any other alerts associated with the 2021 filing season.
The GAO has recommended some simple measures to the IRS for addressing the above, like updating their website for clarity and adding more toll-free telephone lines to support and provide more information for individual refund delays. This is not new and I have been saying it on this site for a while. I just hope the IRS is able to respond sooner rather than later.
What can’t I get through to a Live Agent?
Many American taxpayers are again asking this year why it is so hard for them to call in and get through to a real IRS agent. The answer is simply these agents that provide telephone assistance to taxpayers have too much on with all the new stimulus and refund payments (e.g. Unemployment refund checks) and prior year tax return backlogs to process; and there simply aren’t enough agents to do the work or handle the ever increasing volume of calls from taxpayers. This means ongoing delays for tax payers looking for guidance and information on their return or refund.
During the latest tax season, the IRS is only answered half of calls received, and the average wait time was 17 minutes, compared to 4-minute wait during last year’s first week. Taxpayers calling to make payment arrangements had it worse. During the first week of filing season, 93.3% of taxpayers calling to make payment arrangements were unable to speak to a live representative; those who got through waited an average of 81 minutes. That compares to a 42% fail rate and a 30-minute average wait time the first week of filing season last year.TAS/GAO
As their latest IRS Data book report shows the IRS telephone assistance service experienced a 40% rise in live telephone calls over the last year. For the latest tax year the trend of long wait times to talk to a real IRS agent will likely persist. The WMR site however still remains the most common (and most efficient) channel for folks to get updates on their tax return and refunds.
The IRS recommends contacting them directly only 21 days after your return is successfully submitted and under processing. But a number of people have been waiting for much longer than that and are desperate to get an update on their refund status, which is not always clear from the WMR tool. Talking to a tax advocate can be helpful, but for specific details a real IRS tax agent is the best way to get a definite answer.
If you have tried to get through and keep seeing delays, hopefully you realize that it’s likely not due to anything wrong you are doing. Its just that with all the IRS funding cuts, there are not enough “live” agents to answer all the questions that come up around the complexities and vagaries of the American tax code/system.