Where The Heck Is My Money? Why the IRS Is Taking So Long in 2021

Susan Kelley

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

We’re facing a bit of a dilemma here in the US, a backlog of roughly 35 million unprocessed IRS tax returns, according to the Taxpayer Advocate Service. During the 2021 tax season, the IRS issued 96 million refunds totaling about $270 billion, and yet that doesn’t touch those 35 million folks who are still hanging out in “pending” status, wondering what the heck Uncle Sam is doing with their money. (Yep, you guessed it, I’m among the 35 million.)

Although I’m not among the millions who are counting on that money to catch up on debt or meet daily expenses, knowing that the Federal Government is hanging on to my cash is frustrating, so I looked into it. I expected things not to go as quickly as they have in the past because, hey, we are all seeing the effects of pandemic-related delays. I get that. But I filed early, I filed electronically, and my taxes are not overly complex. I don’t have my own business or strange investments or anything. I did buy a house in the past tax year, and I’ve got a kid in college, but other than that, I wouldn’t say my paperwork is overly difficult for the average Treasury Department worker bee. Also, I don’t even do my own taxes. I hire an accounting firm because the likelihood of me messing up is pretty big, so I get a pro. I thought things would be smooth as butter, even with my anticipated delays. I was wrong.

According to a National Taxpayer Advocate Review, “[2021] was perhaps the most challenging filing season taxpayers, tax professionals, and the IRS have ever experienced.” The pandemic caused the IRS to run at a limited staff capacity in 2020, which of course created a backlog. Add to that three rounds of stimulus checks, and the nation faced what officials called a “perfect storm” for delays in traditional tax refund processing.

There are now recovery rebate credits, tax breaks for unemployment income, and more — all creating new challenges for IRS workers. None of this is good news for those of us waiting to see a deposit in our accounts, that’s for sure. But the backlog is clearing. Just slowly.

And there are tools to check the progress of your distribution, like the “Where’s My Refund” tool which requires some basic information, including your social security number and the exact amount you are expecting to receive. That site will let you know your refund status, more or less. Basically in my case it’s been telling me that yes, they have received my return, but no, they haven’t processed it yet. That’s some reassurance since at least I know I didn’t make some huge error that will land me in tax jail…I guess. On a mobile phone, the IRS2Go.app is the tool of choice which does the same thing. They tell you that it’s okay to call if it’s been more than 21 days since you filed, and I haven’t tried that, but I’m pretty sure you will be on hold for a while. It’s the government, and they are overloaded, and well…it’s the government. *le sigh.

If you are waiting for a serious chunk of change and you have bills to catch up on, though, give them a call at…oh, wait…that's only if you can find the phone number.

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Susan is a runner, avid traveler, mom of three grown children, and a newly-transplanted Baltimorean who follows tech trends, especially at the intersection of health and the public good. Sound intriguing? It is. Often, technology is at odds with the "earthy-crunchy," but sometimes, it is a real boost. Susan is an avowed supporter of women's and human rights, so that situates well here.

Baltimore, MD

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