TAMPA, Fla. — Now that tax season is in full swing, Treasury Department officials warn they’re experiencing some challenges with a backlog of millions of returns that still haven’t been filed from last year.
“The IRS is — they’re busy. They’ve had quite a bit to do these last few years and particularly this last 12 months,” said Luke Richardson, Associate Professor of Instruction at USF’s School of Accounting.
Refund delays are likely again this year, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
The IRS estimates more than 160 million individual tax returns are expected to be filed.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to create challenges but the IRS is reminding people there are important steps to take to avoid delays.
Government officials said if taxpayers do these things, they can reasonably expect a refund within 21 days of filing a return:
- file taxes online
- set up to receive refunds via direct deposit
- file as early as possible
- it’s critical to make sure returns don’t have any errors
“Particularly if you have any errors on your return, if you file a paper return, those things will trigger delays invariably and unfortunately,” said Richardson.
Experts emphasized, if taxpayers don’t file online, the likelihood of delays increases considerably.
“Most recently I think summer of 2020 they noted they had about 20 million pieces of mail unopened,” said Richardson.
Data show last year the IRS received about 282 million phone calls but customer service representatives could only answer roughly 11% of them.
“Trying to reach the IRS, calling the IRS can be difficult to say the least. They’ve seen call volume increase by a few hundred million calls year over year,” said Richardson.
Experts said to avoid needing to contact the IRS, people should do what they can to avoid those delays.
The one big difference people should be aware of as they’re filing their taxes this year is the way the government handled child tax credits.
“There was this opportunity to receive advanced payments of those credits throughout the calendar year 2021 and so you should be receiving or may have already received letters from the IRS saying here’s the amount you received with respect to that credit,” said Richardson.
That’s also true for stimulus payments.
People should pay attention to what they’ve already received and what they’re still entitled to.
“The amount you received previously is going to have an impact on what you have on your tax return that you’re about to file so pay attention to those letters. If you do have them. You can also get to them through the IRS. They have an online portal,” said Richardson.
That’s why experts stressed everyone should file their taxes this year.
“For people who don’t normally file returns and don’t have to file returns, don’t have income, this would be a great year to file that return. Because you may be entitled to these credits and you’re not going to get them unfortunately unless you file a return," said Richardson.
“It’s always a good idea I think to file that return even if you owe taxes. The penalty for failing to file is much more severe than those if you just don’t pay,” he added.
People can file online at no cost to them.
“The IRS has a terrific what they call free file program. You can just enter that into your favorite search engine, IRS free file, and the IRS partners people with commercial tax software providers to give you free access to that software,” said Richardson.
This year’s deadline is April 18, due to a federal holiday.
IRS.gov is the quickest and easiest option for help, as the agency continues to receive a record number of phone calls.
Establishing an online account can help taxpayers get information more quickly.