Q&A: Where’s that tax refund?

Dear Liz: Like the writer in a recent column, I received a stimulus check for my late mother and dutifully mailed the IRS a check as the agency requested on May 6. The check finally cleared on Aug. 12. So, yes, the IRS will absolutely eventually cash it. However, I’m still waiting for the federal tax refund for my mother’s final tax return, which I mailed on April 20. I figure if it took them over three months to just cash a check, it’ll be at least a couple more months, if not longer, to process the return.

Answer: You’re probably right, and — as the previous column emphasized — the IRS does not need calls from people about non-urgent matters as the agency slowly works through its massive backlog. If you can wait to talk to the IRS, in other words, you should.

Q&A: Once is enough for tax returns

Dear Liz: You’ve covered the fact that 2019 tax refunds, especially for those of us who filed paper returns, are delayed. After days of trying to get through to someone at the IRS, I actually connected with an agent. After he told me there are massive problems in their mailroom, I said I was going to file again except this time I would do it electronically. His response, “Don’t do that because it will be a mess.” Can you check with your IRS contacts and see if they are adamant against refiling electronically?

Answer: Adamantly and emphatically, the IRS does not want people to file duplicate returns. Not only will that add to the agency’s already massive backlog, but duplicate returns can trigger identity theft protocols that could make it harder for you to file your returns in the future.

“The only time you would really want to file a duplicate return is when the IRS sends you a notice that the return you previously filed was never received,” said Henry Grzes, lead manager for tax practice and ethics at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. In the past, those notices were sent out 12 to 18 months after the return was due.

Many people have been waiting months for their refunds because of pandemic-related shutdowns. The IRS is slowly reopening the processing centers that were closed, but the backlog is tremendous. Although the agency was able to send out more than 150 million stimulus checks and to process most electronically filed returns, more than 10 million unopened paper returns and other mail had accumulated by mid-May.

The agency has been bringing back its workforce in stages, and the last of the IRS’ processing centers is scheduled to open June 29. In addition to the backlog, they’ll be dealing with even more filings as the extended July 15 tax deadline looms. In short, it’s unclear how much longer you’ll have to wait to get your refund.

The fact that you got through to a human being at all means you beat the odds. As mentioned in the previous column, the IRS was struggling even before the pandemic because of congressional budget cuts. Last year the agency was able to answer fewer than 1 in 4 phone calls, according to the Taxpayer Advocate Service.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Using your tax refund to spring clean your finances. Also in the news: A money conference for women, why the IRS wants their share of your March Madness winnings, and how Millennials can make car buying easier.

Use Your Tax Refund to Spring Clean Your Finances
Tidying up your money.

Lola: A money conference for women.
How to better deal with financial issues unique to women.

You Won! Congratulations — Now Pay Your Taxes
The IRS wants their share of your March Madness winnings.

5 Ways Millennials Can Make Car Buying a Smoother Ride
Making the process easier.

9 Smart Ways to Spend Your Tax Refund
Buying yet another overpriced gadget isn’t one of them.

How Much More It Costs to Own vs. Rent in Your State
Where does your state rank?