As the IRS notes, for nine out of ten tax payers it takes a maximum of 21 days to receive a tax refund (when eligible) after their tax return has been accepted. But this is still just an estimate based on past IRS refund schedules and not a guarantee. Further if it takes 21 days on average for 90% of tax payers, it also takes a lot longer than that for 10% or over 15 million tax filers to see their refund.
For the current tax season this delay has been exacerbated, with the IRS and Taxpayer Advocate Service already reporting that they are dealing with a significant backlog of tax returns (including some from the prior year) and many filers are reporting several weeks delays in getting their refund payments.
And trying to get through to someone in the IRS has proven even harder with recent reports from the Tax Payer Advocate service saying that only about 1 in 50 callers are actually getting through to the IRS (discussed more in this video).
Keep reading for more tips on getting through to an agent below and in the tax refund delays comments forum following this article.
Reasons Why Your Tax Return Processing and Refund Has Been Delayed
To understand why processing has been delayed you need to understand the refund process. It starts with the submission of your final tax return. After your tax return has been accepted by the IRS (return received) they will start processing it over several days until finalized and a tax refund, if eligible, is disbursed (refund approved). A refund payment date will then be available on the IRS Where is my Refund (WMR site or IRS2Go app) once sent out (refund sent). If there are issues with your refund you may see an extended delay in moving to the next processing status and an applicable IRS message/code will be displayed once available.
The IRS and tax experts have said that there could be dozens of reasons when it comes to delays in processing tax returns that can then affect the timing of your refund. Some are in your control, but others may be purely do IRS processing delays that you cannot do much about. But common causes for tax return processing and refund delays include:
- Includes errors or is incomplete, which means the IRS cannot validate or match your data to their records. Especially for key items like your or your spouse’s SSN, dependent data or missing fields needed to process your return (e.g income)
- Is affected by identity theft or fraud. You will see a message if this is the reason and receive a letter in the mail to confirm identity and next steps. You need to ensure you follow instructions and provide required information to confirm your identity with the IRS.
- Incorrect bank account information. Given most refunds are sent electronically it’s very important to double (or triple) check that your account number and bank routing number are accurate. You don’t want a delay trying to recover a refund because it went to the wrong bank account. This has impacted thousands of people and even delayed payment of stimulus checks which relied on your latest tax return payment details.
- Includes a claim filed for an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or an Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC). This delays returns early in the tax season due to (PATH) legislation which requires additional verification for these credits and does not allow returns with these credits to be processed for three to four weeks into the tax season.
- Includes a Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation which could cause delays for up to 14 weeks due to additional processing and verification by the IRS.
- Needs further reviews in general by the IRS. Most systems have automated checks looking for common red flags and are then flagged for more further (manual) processing. The could add weeks to your tax return processing and subsequent delays to your refund payments.
- [Outside your control and a big issue this year] IRS delays due to focus on or processing of other higher priority items like 2020/2021 stimulus checks or unprocessed past year tax returns. Unfortunately you cannot do anything in this situation and will just have to wait for the IRS to catch-up on processing refunds. Given their staff shortages, antiquated systems and new credits they are paying out this year like the expanded monthly CTC and $10,200 unemployment tax break, the 2020-2021 tax year will likely be a long one with months of waiting for refund payments. The silver lining with delayed refunds is that the IRS will end up paying interest on your overdue refunds as long as filed by the tax season deadline (May 17th, for this season).
One thing to note is that by using electronic filing software like TurboTax to efile returns, you can eliminate a lot of the simple errors or incomplete information related issues that delay tax refund processing because tax software packages have automated checks before you submit the return to the IRS. This is why electronically filing your taxes is the recommended option by the IRS and tax advocates.
What To Do Next?
If it has been over 21 days since your return was being accepted by the IRS (or 6 weeks if you filed a paper return) and the tax refund status has not changed or WMR has no updated message for delays, you can call the IRS and speak with an agent concerning your tax refund. But to reiterate, don’t call before 21 days as the IRS will tell you to wait until the prescribed period. You can call the IRS on 1-800-829-1040 between 7 AM – 7 PM local time Monday-Friday.
Some people may also receive a formal IRS notice requesting specific information, which often contain a number to call that is different to the general one above. Firstly, don’t ignore these letters and ensure you use this one as chances of getting through to a live agent are higher. Also calling early or late in the day seems to increase the odds of getting through to someone.
Calling the IRS to Check on Your Refund – 4 Options to Try
Its not always easy to get through to a live agent at the IRS, but below are some options to try. Hopefully these help you get someone real to talk to about your refund. But just be warned you will need to try a few times, so have a drink or lots of patience handy!
Option 1 (seems to be working this year)
- Call IRS number 1-800-829-0582
- DO NOT selection Option #1 for English
- Wait until the automated voice finishes talking. Then enter extension 652
- You may have to wait a while due to high call volumes (and redial a few times), but you will get a live agent.
- Call the IRS on 1-800-829-1040
- So after first choosing your language, then do NOT choose Option 1 (refund info) or Option 7 (economic impact payment/stimulus check).
- Choose option 2 for “personal income tax” instead.
- Then press 1 for “form, tax history, or payment”.
- Then press 3 “for all other questions.”
- Then press 2 “for all other questions.”
- When it asks you to enter your SSN or EIN to access your account information, don’t enter anything.
- After it asks twice, you will get another menu.
- Then press 2 for personal or individual tax questions.
- It should then transfer you to an agent. Retry if you get the high call volume message.
Option 3: Call the IRS Refund Hotline – 1-800-829-1954 – and follow the prompts.
Option 4: Another route to get more information on your refund is to contact the National Taxpayer Advocate Service (see more on the TAS here), an independent unit within the IRS to add tax payers. But they will be limited to help until the IRS actually starts processing your return and has loaded your tax filing information into their systems.
Please leave a comment, in addition to the many below, if you have found a different and effective way to speak to a real IRS Tax agent. You can see some more suggestions in this video on IRS numbers and tips to get a live agent.