Q&A: The case for filing a tax return

Dear Liz: A couple on Social Security who hadn’t received their stimulus payments wrote that they “do not make enough income to file tax returns.” It might be worthwhile to let your readers know that, even if one’s income is below the amount where they must file a tax return, they nevertheless may file a tax return. I volunteer at a site where we do free tax preparation, and we encourage filing even when not required. It can help identify or potentially prevent identity theft, and it provides documentation of tax status that may be helpful in the future.

Answer: Thanks for that tip. People receiving Social Security weren’t required to file tax returns to receive their stimulus payments of up to $1,200 each, but as you noted there can be other advantages to filing even when it’s not necessary.

Most stimulus payments have been delivered at this point, although a congressional committee estimated 30 million to 35 million had not been sent. If you got a letter saying your payment had been sent, but you haven’t received the money, you can ask the IRS to trace your payment by calling (800) 919-9835.

Q&A: Why tax refunds are taking so long to arrive

Dear Liz: You mentioned that people who file electronically and use direct deposit generally get their refunds much more quickly than those who file paper returns. That has always been true for me, but this year I filed in February and got a message that there was a problem but not to contact the IRS for 60 days. Then COVID-19 happened and the IRS basically shut down. Can you tell me when they will release my money?

Answer: No one knows. The IRS is still in the process of calling employees back to work and some operations centers won’t reopen until later this month.

As employees return, they’re confronting an almost incomprehensible backlog of paperwork and requests for help. Millions of paper returns are sitting in trailers, waiting to be input into the IRS’ computers, and no one has been available to process electronically filed returns that were flagged because of problems.

People who have already been waiting months may still have to wait several weeks more before they see their money or can even access someone who knows what’s happened to their returns. As a reminder, the IRS extended the tax filing deadline to July 15.

Q&A: Where’s my refund?

Dear Liz: I filed a paper 2019 federal tax return in mid-February. It’s been more than nine weeks, and they haven’t electronically deposited my refund yet. Last week, I called the “Where’s My Refund” IRS number and got an automated response that basically they couldn’t help me. I then called the taxpayer advocate number listed in the IRS booklet, and they couldn’t help me but transferred me to the IRS’ toll-free number. After taking my information, the service person couldn’t find my return and suggested I resubmit my forms. The whole process took over two hours. Then my brother told me IRS offices are closed or have limited staff and they aren’t processing the tax returns. Why don’t they just say that at the beginning of all of their messages, instead of saying you should get it within six weeks of filing?

Answer: Over the last decade, Congress has cut the IRS’ budget by more than 20% after factoring in inflation, even as the population grew and tax law got ever more complicated. The agency was limping along with ancient technology and too few people to help the public even before the pandemic sent most of its workers home, without the ability to telecommute.

The agency has been trying to recall its workforce as quickly as it can, but there is a truly massive backlog of paper returns that has yet to be processed. Sending out stimulus relief checks has taken priority, and that Herculean effort is still in process.

You may be frustrated by what you perceive as poor customer service, but this situation didn’t develop overnight and taxpayers are reaping what they sowed, or at least reaping what their lawmakers sowed. You should let those lawmakers know how you feel if you want this to change.

And you should change, as well. It is not smart to send a tax return through the U.S. mail. Electronic filing is a much more secure alternative, and it’s quicker. With direct deposit, you can get your refund within days. Even with the pandemic, most e-filers have gotten their refunds promptly.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to navigate your most dangerous decade. Also in the news: 5 questions to ask before you share a credit card, how to use your tax refund to polish your credit, and how to save on your cell phone bill without a family plan.

How to Navigate Your Most Dangerous Decade
Your fifties can be daunting.

5 Questions to Ask Before You Share a Credit Card
Preventing future disagreements.

How to Use Your Tax Refund to Polish Your Credit
Giving your credit a little boost.

How to Save on Your Cell Phone Bill Without a Family Plan
Discounts aren’t just for families.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How your tax refund could improve your credit. Also in the news: What to buy (and skip) in April, 8 warning signs it’s time to course correct in college, and 7 last-minute tax tips to lower your 2018 bill.

How your tax refund could improve your credit
Using your refund strategically.

What to Buy (and Skip) in April
Good time for a vacuum upgrade.

8 Warning Signs It’s Time to Course Correct in College
Change course if you want to graduate.

7 Last-Minute Tax Tips to Lower Your 2018 Bill
There’s still time to save money.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 tips for cutting the cost of having your taxes done. Also in the news: How to find the dirt on your tax preparer, making the most of a gig economy to pay down debt, and 11 smart ways to spend your tax refund.

5 Tips for Cutting the Cost of Having Your Taxes Done
How to rein in the costs.

How to Find the Dirt on Your Tax Preparer
Don’t give your info to just anyone.

How I Ditched Debt: Making the Most of a Gig Economy
A woman pays down over $25K in three years.

11 smart ways to spend your tax refund, according to personal finance experts
Don’t think of it as a windfall.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Could you live on your retirement savings for 23 years? Also in the news: How a new pilot manages $116,000+ in loans, what your tax refund will look like this year, and the top 10 colleges for financial aid.

Could You Live on Your Retirement Savings for 23 Years?
How long will your money last?

Debt Diary: How a New Pilot Manages $116,000+ in Loans
A payoff strategy.

What Your Tax Refund Will Look Like This Year
It might not be as much as you think.

The top 10 colleges for financial aid
Some colleges are quite generous.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to prepare for the next recession. Also in the news: How to grow your tax refund, everything you need to know to file your 2018 taxes, and how to wean grown kids off of your payroll.

There’s Always a Next Recession, so Be Prepared
Soften the blow of the next economic downturn.

If You’re Expecting a Tax Refund, Make a Plan to Grow It
Invest your refund instead of blowing it.

Everything You Need to Know to File Your 2018 Taxes
A handy list.

How to wean grown kids off your payroll, freeing up more retirement cash
Cutting the purse strings.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to invest during a bear market. Also in the news: Saying goodbye to John Bogle, how to budget for a family trip to Disney, and questions to ask before taking a tax refund advance.

How to Invest During a Bear Market
Strategies to consider.

Why We’ll Miss John Bogle — and His Wealth of Investing Wisdom
Saying goodbye to a legend.

How to budget for a family trip to Disney.
Money for Mickey and friends.

Before Taking a Tax Refund Advance, Ask These Questions
Beware of hidden fees, high interest.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 great ways to invest your tax refund. Also in the news: How to say no to being a bridesmaid, when to upgrade at the gas pump, and how to decode your financial aid letters.

5 Great Ways to Invest Your Tax Refund
The best ways to put your windfall to good use.

Ask Brianna: How to Say No to Being a Bridesmaid
While keeping your friendship intact.

Premium and ‘Top Tier’ Gas: When to Upgrade at the Pump
When the higher octane is necessary.

How to Decode Your Financial Aid Letters
Deciphering your offers.