Tax-refund delays and stimulus-payment hiccups could spill into the upcoming tax season as the Internal Revenue Service continues to face challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic and as Congress considers yet another round of direct payments.
Millions of Americans waited months for refunds in 2020, and millions also have yet to receive some or all of the stimulus payment approved last spring, according to a report Wednesday from Erin Collins, head of the Taxpayer Advocate Service, an independent office housed in the IRS.
The findings foreshadow what is likely to be a complicated and consequential tax season as taxpayers try to navigate tax forms to get missing payments. Further tangling things, another round of stimulus payments may be coming — President-elect Joe Biden and Democratic congressional leaders are pushing for them — and they could go out in the middle of tax-filing season, diverting IRS resources and potentially confusing taxpayers.
Delayed refunds last year were large because of the agency’s sensitive fraud filters, and tax returns being filed on paper rather than electronically, the report said. The IRS was slow to process the 16 million paper returns as the agency halted work at several processing centers during the early days of the pandemic.
There were still 6.9 million unprocessed individual returns as of Dec. 25, according to the IRS. Some were filed as far back as April, according to the National Taxpayer Advocate’s annual report to Congress.
For much of the year, relatively limited information was released, and comments made by IRS officials often were incomplete or misleading.
The IRS said in a statement that tens of thousands of its workers are teleworking either part or full-time and that while “significant progress” had been made processing returns, it’s still working through the backlog.
Laura Davison and Allyson Versprille
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