The official start of the 2021 tax filing season is less than two weeks away, but millions of taxpayers are still waiting on the resolution of the returns they filed last year.
As of Christmas Day 2020, the Internal Revenue Service had 6.9 million individual tax returns in the processing pipeline, according to the latest update on the IRS' special web page where it's been tracking operations in this time of coronavirus.
That's a lot of 1040s, but the IRS says in its Jan. 29 online entry that it has made "significant progress" in processing returns and is "now opening mail within normal timeframes."
But despite digging out from what last summer was a pile of 23.4 million pieces of unopened U.S. Postal Service mail, the return to a sort of normal tax operation is uneven.
Location matters: IRS offices are now open, but COVID-19 continues to cause some service delays. Just how much of a delay depends, to borrow a phrase the agency uses often in making decisions about filings, on facts and circumstances.
In these cases, that's where you sent your tax return and where it is in the process.
"In some locations, we are caught up or almost caught up," according to the agency's website. "In other locations we are processing returns we received over the summer due to the extended July 15 tax filing due date and, in some cases, are processing tax returns dated as early as July 15, 2020."
To help work through this latest backlog, the IRS says it is rerouting tax returns and taxpayer correspondence from locations that are behind to locations where more staff is available.
Other return delay problems: The agency says it also is opening tax returns in the order received. But even then, it cautions, as a return is processed, it may be delayed because of a mistake, missing information or suspected identity theft or fraud.
The IRS will fix errors without contacting taxpayers where possible, such as correcting a math error.
If, however, IRS examiners need more information or need filers to verify their returns are legitimate, it will send them letter. Your best move here is to respond promptly so the agency can complete processing of your return.
"Please don't file a second tax return or contact the IRS about the status of your return," added the IRS. Instead, the agency encourages taxpayers to check its Where's My Refund online tracking tool for updates on their money.
Checks still being found: As for filers who mailed the agency checks to cover their 2019 tax liability, the IRS says it is getting to those payments, too.
"We're opening mail as quickly as possible and expect to process any checks within 60 days of their arrival," said the IRS. "We'll apply your payment on the date we received it, not the date we processed it."
To ensure that this process goes as smoothly as possible and no late-payment penalties are applied, the agency asks that taxpayers not cancel any checks they sent last year and to make sure the account from which it was written has sufficient funds.
"We're working hard to get through the backlog," said the IRS, noting that continued social distancing within offices and other COVID-19 precautions are still a bit of an obstacle.
As it does that, the IRS is asking for something that is in short supply among taxpayers even in normal tax times. Patience.
You also might find these items of interest:
- Slow tax refunds again make the annual Top 10 list of taxpayer problems
- In the wake of disasters & COVID-19, will the IRS be ready for the 2021 tax season?
- Is the IRS ready to deliver more COVID relief payments? The commissioner is optimistic
|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.