I have received a number of letters from readers of this forbes.com column asking for help with both tax refunds and incentive payments. They want to know, what’s going on? I have some answers, but unfortunately no advice to every reader, as each delay can be situational, ie unique to the person experiencing the delay.
Readers speak out
BW from Georgia writes: “I am still waiting for my refunds for 2020. We have submitted March 1st, still no replies. When I use the IRS website they still say pending. on [the] phone say they use the site. The site says pending. How do I actually find out what’s going on?”
LK from Delaware writes: “I am a Forbes reader. I saw your article on tax issues. I emailed my return and I can’t even see if they received it [it]. I’ve been trying for 2 months.”
CG from Chicago writes, “I was supposed to get my money back today. I have yet to receive it. … Who can I talk to about this?”
TL from Seattle writes: “I’m still waiting for my tax return”[funds]. … I called [the IRS] 2 months ago and I was told I would receive a check by May 24, 2021.”
MM, who was fired, writes: “I am waiting for my refund like so many who are struggling. …I am very frustrated with the way that people who need it most, those who have had children during this pandemic, are the very ones who have not received any stimulus money and are holding up our taxes without any communication.
All different situations
These individuals have very different backgrounds and circumstances that could explain delays in refunds and incentive payments; the only similarity is that they need help. The problem is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The best thing we can do here and now is get some insights from the IRS. This is what I discovered.
The IRS responds
For those waiting for a refund, the IRS is aware of delays and is doing everything it can to handle the processing of millions of tax returns.
An IRS spokesperson explained: “If your refund is delayed, we apologize. We know how important it is to process and issue refunds quickly. Rest assured that our people are working hard – even overtime – to get you your money.”
As of June 5, there were approximately 18 million individual returns in the pipeline, including some from previous years. The IRS hopes to reduce the backlog to zero sometime this summer.
There are some reasons unique to 2020 that could cause delays, the spokesperson explains: the Recovery Rebate Credit (RRC) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). With the RRC, one of the main reasons for delay is a taxpayer claiming a credit that differs from what appears to be the eligible amount (according to IRS data). The EITC often involves an individual who has chosen to use their 2019 income to calculate the credit. In both cases, the situation requires individual attention from an employee of the Tax Authorities, which means that the declaration may take longer.
Can your return be delayed for other reasons?
The other delays that may affect your particular situation may include these items listed on the IRS website: If the return is affected by identity theft or fraud, has errors, or is incomplete. The IRS will contact a taxpayer by mail if more information is needed to process a return. What is unknown is when that could happen.
Refunds processed so far
While this won’t help readers who contacted me, the IRS filing statistics for the week ending June 4, 2021 have so far shown that more than 102 million refunds have already been made, with over 90% of them being direct- deposited. You can find weekly updates on returns processing on IRS.gov at IRS Operations During COVID-19: Mission-critical functions continue.
What should you do?
While you can always call the IRS for help (800-829-1040), try this first.
Go to “Where’s my refund?” at IRS.gov. Click the blue “Check My Refund Status” box, then enter your Social Security Number or ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number), your application status, and the exact refund amount that appeared on your tax return. The tool has a tracker that shows three stages: (1) Return Received; (2) Refund approved; and (3) Refund sent.
That site is updated once a day, usually at night, according to the IRS spokesperson.
An IRS app is another option
There is an IRS web application that can help you get current information about your refund. You can access the app online or with your mobile device. Go online to the IRS.gov website to this page. There you will find “IRS2Go”, the official mobile app of the IRS that you can download to your phone from Google Play, amazon.com or Apple.
The app will show you your refund status. You can also use the app to file your tax return for free if you haven’t already done so. The app has an English and a Spanish version.
It doesn’t help to send in a duplicate return
If you think sending the IRS an extra copy of your tax return might help, it won’t, the IRS spokesperson explained: “It won’t speed up the process and can often slow it down.”
Can more be done?
It would be helpful to give special attention to people in need (eg MM). One possible way would be to contact the member of the US House of Representatives in their congressional district. The contact details can be found here. A similar option exists for contact information for US senators.
Where is my stimulus check?
The “Get My Payment” tool on IRS.gov continues to be the primary resource for people to check the status of their Economic Impact Payments (EIPs).
When it comes to EIPs, more than 169 million direct deposits and checks have been issued, which includes more than 8 million “plus-up” payments (to people who originally received no payment or less than the full amount).
If you miss an incentive payment that you think you should have received, you have two options: file a tax return to claim the recovery discount credit, or use the new no-filer signup tool.
If you have not filed a 2020 tax return and do not owe any tax, you can file a return to claim the Recovery Credit.
The Non-filer Sign-up Tool was announced on June 14, 2021 by the Treasury Department and the IRS. While the tool is intended to help families who normally do not file tax returns to register for the monthly child tax credit advance payments (starting July 15), it can also be used by people who do not file tax returns and the 2020 Recovery Rebate Credit and their third Economic Impact Payment. The tool, an update to the IRS Non-filers version that debuted last year, is available only on IRS.gov.
This tool may be helpful to another reader, JD, who wrote, “I need help figuring out how to get my stimulus checks. … I’m a guy here struggling every day to make ends meet and barely enough money earn to pay my rent, run errands to feed me for the whole month, and by then I barely have any money in my bank account.”
All in all there is help, but not as timely as one would like. Hopefully — and soon — we’ll find a way to speed up incentive payments (and refunds) when needs are dire.
stay in touch
Write me with IRS related questions at: [email protected]. State your city and state and state that you are a forbes.com reader.