If you’ve been trying unsuccessfully to get through to an actual human being at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to ask why your tax refund is delayed, know that you have plenty of company among your fellow taxpaying Americans.
As of last week, the IRS had answered only 2% of the 75 million phone calls it’s received about 1040 forms during the current tax filing season. That’s according to a new blog post from Erin Collins, the National Taxpayer Advocate, who works for an independent office within the IRS to identify trouble spots and recommend solutions to taxpayer woes.
And there have been plenty of woes this year: As the Taxpayer Advocate Service has already pointed out, some 30 million 2020 tax returns have required manual processing, in addition to a backlog of paper returns still left over from 2019. Manual processing can cause delays, and they can be triggered by a number of factors, including errors or miscalculations on the return, or even security protocols that flag returns for ID verification. Even though many taxpayers filed early this year—tax season opened on February 12—many are still waiting for their refunds.
The IRS maintains that most refunds are received within 21 days, provided the taxpayer has direct deposit and the return is not flagged for further review. The agency generally discourages phone calls to ask about returns, insisting that people should only call if they have been waiting for more than 21 days and are directed to do so by the Where’s My Refund tool.
In her latest post, Collins identifies that a major cause of delays during this season has been the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act, which directed the IRS to make last-minute changes to tax law and left staffers with little time to implement systems for handling those changes. Even during a good year, the IRS tends to be underfunded and understaffed.
So what’s the solution? Expect a bumpy ride in the short term, but Collins says more funding is ultimately needed to address the IRS’s customer support inefficiencies.
“If the IRS had adequate funding for its computer systems, it could provide a robust online account with an ability to update the status of IRS reviews in real time and the anticipated payment date of the refund,” she wrote last month. “Additionally, adequate resources would allow the IRS to upgrade its telephone systems to provide a customer callback feature, so taxpayers don’t have to endure long hold times and low levels of service.”