NBC 5 Responds

IRS Extends Filing Deadline, but What if Last Year's Returns Aren't Processed Yet?

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Last March when the pandemic struck, IRS employees, like many individuals around the nation, were also sent home, and the large workforce wasn’t readily able to process returns remotely.

“The IRS had to close their offices and send everybody home. And like many of us, they were not set up for virtual operations. (And) they have a much older workforce in general,” Certified Public Accountant Wendy Barlin told NBC 5 Responds in January. 

1040s soon piled up, creating a backlog that delayed the processing of millions of returns. 

“I know it's frustrating and everybody needs the money, but your money is not lost. It will come,” says Barlin.

Last week the IRS announced that it is now opening mail within normal timeframes and has made significant progress in processing prior year returns, but a mountain of paperwork still lies ahead.    

“We are just getting through the backlog of those mailed returns that were sitting unopened for many weeks in 2020,” says Raphael Tulino, an IRS spokesperson.

According to the IRS.gov website, as of March 5, the IRS had 2.4 million individual tax returns received prior to 2021 in the processing pipeline. Including current year returns, as of March 5, the IRS had 9.2 million unprocessed returns in the pipeline.     

Tax returns are opened in the order received, so the IRS stresses patience, and more importantly, not to file a second time.   

“We're asking for patience, understand the situation we're up against with two rounds of economic back payments, two filing seasons, an extension, all the new laws, legislation, the resource issues, the code environment to continue the process and get things done,” says Tulino.

But with the clock ticking toward this year’s extended May 17 deadline, taxpayers are reaching out to NBC 5 Responds with a slew of questions, including whether they can file 2020 returns if their 2019 returns have yet to be processed.

We asked the IRS and the answer is, yes.   

“The IRS will process a complete 2020 1040 if the taxpayer has not filed a prior year return,” IRS spokesperson Michael DeVine confirmed to NBC 5 Responds.    

DeVine directed us to their website which offers this clarification: If your 2019 return has not yet been processed, you may enter $0 (zero) as your prior year Adjusted Gross Income.”

But refunds are not the only financial benefit being held up. Without their 2019 returns, many people say they missed out on their full economic payment. But there’s help for that too.    

“If you didn't get the full amount or a partial amount of an economic impact payment, round one or round two, and you qualify for more, this year on Form 1040, line 30, is the Recovery Rebate Credit. And that was set up for you to either get the full amount if you didn't get it last year for one reason or another or more,” says Tulino.

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