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Why tens of millions of Americans are still waiting on a 2020 tax refund

The Internal Revenue Service has a backlog of 35.3 million individual and business refunds to process, a taxpayer advocate told Congress

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Multiple forms printed from the Internal Revenue Service web page.

Multiple forms printed from the Internal Revenue Service web page that are used for 2018 U.S. federal tax returns are pictured on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019, in Zelienople, Pa.

Keith Srakocic, Associated Press

Tens of millions of Americans are still waiting on their 2020 tax returns as the Internal Revenue Service struggles to process a backlog of returns that is exponentially higher than last year, Yahoo Finance reported.

Erin Collins, the national taxpayer advocate at IRS-affiliated independent organization Taxpayer Advocate Service, said in a report to Congress last week that although around 95% of taxpayers will likely avoid a delay in their 2020 tax return, 35.3 million individual and business returns are still unprocessed, reported Yahoo Finance.

  • “We had new legislation that Congress enacted at the end of December — it was very favorable to taxpayers, but as a result, the IRS couldn’t get their systems programmed quick enough that they could implement it through technology,” Collins said to Yahoo Finance, referring to a change in the way earned income tax credit and advanced child tax credit could be filed.
  • Collins added that the change led to “time consuming” comparisons of individual tax filings by IRS staff and that manual refunds — which require human processing by a staffer — were up three-fold this year from last.

A litany of issues has led to delays at the IRS

The IRS, citing coronavirus pandemic-induced problems for Americans, pushed the traditional Tax Day deadline of April 15 for filing 2020 taxes back a month to May 17. But it wasn’t only average Americans struggling with pandemic ills, the IRS too was trying to cope with its own staffing challenges, Fox Business reported.

  • “To state the obvious, this filing season has been challenging for tens of millions of taxpayers and anything but normal for the IRS and its employees,” the taxpayer advocate wrote in her congressional report, according to Fox Business.
  • Not only is the IRS responsible for processing Americans’ taxes, they’ve also been tasked with issuing coronavirus stimulus checks during the 2020 and 2021 tax seasons, Fox Business reported — adding evening more challenges to an agency that started the year with 11 million paper returns still needing to be processed from 2019.

When will I get my 2020 tax return?

On the IRS’s official website, the agency warns that 2020 refunds are taking longer than 21 days to issue, but says little else on when those 35.3 million people can expect to see a refund check.

So, when does Collins think the IRS will begin to issue the backlog of refunds? The taxpayer advocate doesn’t expect any time soon.

  • “I do not have a crystal ball, I would like to tell you that absolutely this summer — I’m not that optimistic,” Collins told Yahoo Finance.