Taxpayers should be prepared for increased delays this filing season as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) continues to work through a backlog of returns from previous years.
More than eight million individual returns, including two million amended returns from multiple tax years awaited processing as of mid-February.
Every return represents a family or individual waiting for their return, and it’s likely that in some cases, it has nothing to do with how they filed their taxes, rather it stems from delays and staffing struggles inside the IRS itself.
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NBC 5 Responds has heard from many consumers, writing in to share their tax return delay woes. They are certainly not alone.
The recent National Taxpayer Advocate’s annual report to Congress states customer service representatives at the IRS were only able to answer 11% of calls from the public received in 2021.
Racquel Johnson from the Dallas-Fort Worth area understands that more than most.
“You hold [on the phone] for two hours and then it disconnects you. You never get to talk to anybody, and that's constant, all day,” Racquel told NBC 5 Responds. Raquel is still waiting for her 2019 amended return that she filed in January 2020 to be processed.
Statistics from the National Taxpayer Advocate’s report show in 2021, the number of calls from the public to the IRS increased by more than 180% compared to the previous year.
For people lucky enough to get through to a representative, there hasn’t been much good news on the other end.
“I call every month and they tell me it takes 12 weeks to be reviewed, it has now been eight months,” Marianne Carlson of Arlington Heights told NBC 5 Responds. Carlson said her amended refund is in the thousands.
Since 2010, the IRS’ workforce shrunk by 17% while the number of individual taxpayers has increased by 19%, according to the National Taxpayer Advocate’s report.
While Congress provided one-time additional funding to implement pandemic-relief programs for Americans, the IRS has had to cope with pandemic problems itself. Processing center staffing was limited with social distancing, while some centers closed altogether.
That’s why the IRS is urging everyone to consider some specific points when filing this year, in hopes to avoid a delayed refund.
How To Avoid Delays
To avoid delays, an IRS spokesperson recommends the following:
- File electronically
- Use direct deposit for refunds
- Be sure your return is error-free. The IRS says all original individual refunds received prior to April 2021 have been processed if the return had no errors.
It’s important to not file until all forms are received from employers, applicable banking accounts, and any other income you must report. That includes two new letters about the most recent stimulus checks and advance child tax credit.
IRS letter 6475, the Economic Impact Payment letter, can help people claim the 2021 COVID-19 recovery rebate credit. The letter helps taxpayers determine if they are entitled to claim the stimulus payment, deposited to the first recipients in March 2021, when filing their return this tax season.
IRS letter 6419, the Advance Child Tax Credit payments letter, can help people get the remainder of their 2021 child tax credit. The letter gives the total amount credited in 2021 and the number of qualifying children used to calculate the advance payments.
Eligible families who didn’t receive any advance child tax credit payments can claim the full amount on their 2021 federal tax return, including families who don't normally need to file a tax return.
How to File For Free
Before you pay for tax preparation or an online software, see if you qualify for free filing resources.
The IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly programs work with:
- Filers who earn less than $58,000
- People with disabilities
- Limited English speakers
- People 60-years-old or older
You can use the IRS’ lookup tool to find a local site to help. Enter your ZIP code and select how far you’re willing to travel from the drop-down menu.
The City of Chicago also has a free filing service through Ladder Up for most families earning up to $58,000 annually and individuals making $32,000 or less. Appointments can be made online or by calling (312) 588-6900.
If you don’t qualify for free tax preparation, you may be eligible to use a free software program to file your own tax return. Taxpayers with an adjusted gross income of $73,000 or less, can file taxes for free through the IRS Free File Program. It is a public-private partnership between the IRS and tax filing software companies. Some companies may charge an additional fee to file an Illinois return.
If you’re comfortable navigating basic questions about your income taxes and don’t qualify for any of these programs, you may still be able to file your return for free through the United Way’s myfreetaxes.com.
The due date to file the 2021 federal income tax return is April 18.