The Internal Revenue Service has a bit of good, although very belated, news for taxpayers still waiting for their 2019 tax return refunds.
The agency says it plans to issue most of those delayed refunds by the end of the year.
Coronavirus pandemic mail pile-up: The problem stems, of course, from COVID-19. In the spring, most of the federal government and many private companies instituted pandemic protocols.
Among those put in place by the IRS were closures at most of its campuses nationwide. That meant tax work that had to be handled in-office went undone.
The closures also produced a monumental backlog of literal paperwork, as old-school tax documents were delivered by the U.S. Postal Service to empty IRS offices.
The amount of unopened tax mail at one point was nearly 13 million. The IRS said that as of Nov. 24, the backlog has been trimmed to 7.1 million unprocessed individual tax returns and 2.3 million unprocessed business returns.
Descending the snail mail mountain: While still huge, the agency says the current unopened mail amounts are much more manageable.
Even better, the IRS says the reduction should allow the agency to send refunds for 2019 individual tax returns that don't have any filing issues by the end of 2020.
That distribution target date is just — checking the ol' blog's end of year countdown clock over there in the right column — 15 days and a few hours away as I type.
So while it might not be a literal present under your Christmas tree, a long-awaited refund definitely could be a very welcome 2020 holiday gift.
Always some exceptions: Of course, we all know about the best laid plans of men, women and the IRS.
In some cases, the IRS won't be able to issue refunds this year. That will happen where a 2019 tax year return is being corrected, reviewed or the agency is awaiting correspondence from the filer.
Where that happens, the refunds (once the issues are resolved) will be sent as paper checks in 2021.
The relatively good news about the year-end goal for refund issuance is detailed on the IRS' IRS Operations During COVID-19: Mission-critical functions continue Web page.
That page's first section, titled What You Can Expect, elaborates. I've listed some of its other highlights below.
Return processing timing: The IRS says exactly when you'll get your refund depends on where you sent your Form 1040 and where it is in the process.
In some locations, the IRS is caught up or almost caught up. In others, the agency still is processing the truckloads of returns that it received over the summer.
The later-than-usual arrival of returns this year was not due to the Postal Service. Instead, the filing deadline was extended until July 15 due to the pandemic. Millions of folks waited until then to mail their forms.
Others, however, proceeded as usual. The IRS says that in some cases it received filings sent on the usual April 15 Tax Day.
The filing dates are key. The IRS says tax returns are opened in the order received. So if you got yours in earlier, it should be at the front of this delayed processing line.
To expedite the process, the IRS says it is rerouting tax returns and taxpayer correspondence from locations that are behind to locations where more staff is available.
Answer IRS questions quickly: Other things, though, could slow down the process. As a return goes through the IRS channels, it could be delayed because of a filing mistake, missing information or if the IRS suspects identity theft or fraud.
In these cases, the IRS says:
"If we can fix it without contacting you, we will. If we need more information or need you to verify that it was you who sent the tax return, we will write you a letter."
Where you do get a letter, aka an IRS notice, respond to it as soon as possible. Your prompt, accurate and thorough answer will affect how quickly the matter is resolved.
The sooner that happens, the sooner your return will be finalized and your refund issued.
Limited taxpayer next steps: If you've been waiting months for a refund, you naturally want to do all you can to help speed up the process.
Unfortunately, the IRS says that other than responding quickly to any requests it sends you for information about your 2019 tax return, there's' nothing you can do.
So, says the IRS, don't file a second tax return.
And please don't, adds the IRS, contact the agency about the status of your return. I suspect your tax pro, if you got professional help with your 2019 filing, seconds that IRS "quit calling!" advice.
You can, however, continue to check the IRS' online Where's My Refund? search tool. But do so only once a day. It's updated every 24 hours, so multiple calls a day won't yield any additional information.
You also might find these items of interest:
- 6 ways to get electronic tax help from the IRS
- IRS won't provide blanket tax relief for penalties assessed during COVID-19
- IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers - with COVID precautions - are re-opening
|Coronavirus Caveat & More Information
In 2020, we're all dealing with extraordinary circumstances,
both in our daily lives and when it comes to our taxes.
The COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to reduce its transmission
and protect ourselves and our families means that,
for the most part, we're focusing on just getting through these trying days.
But life as we knew it before the coronavirus will return,
along with our mundane tax matters.
Here's hoping that happens soon!
In the meantime, you can find more on the virus and its effects on our taxes
by clicking Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Taxes.