You are not alone. We have been hearing from clients who are still waiting on refunds from returns filed early in the year. In normal times, unless there is an error, the IRS will issue most refunds in less than 21 calendar days. However, 2021 is far from being a normal year for a number of reasons. Here is a list of contributing factors for delays:

COVID-19 – Unlike most other employers that had to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak, IRS employees could not work from home because the computer system can only be accessed from IRS facilities. During 2020 and 2021, many IRS employees were furloughed, and the IRS got significantly behind in processing returns. As a result, the IRS was still processing 2019 returns at the beginning of the 2020 return filing season.

Economic Impact Payments – Congress ordered the IRS to handle the task of issuing three economic impact payments, two in 2020 and one in 2021, tapping IRS resources.

Recovery Rebates – To make matters worse, those first two economic impact payments had to be reconciled on the 2020 tax return, and if a taxpayer didn’t receive the amount they were entitled to, they were allowed an equivalent recovery rebate credit on their tax return.   

If there is a discrepancy between the amount of the payments reported on the tax return and what the IRS has on file for the economic impact payment amounts, the IRS is manually verifying the tax return for credit eligibility, which is delaying refunds.

Unemployment Debacle – In March, 2021, Congress, after the 2020 tax filing season had gotten underway and millions of taxpayers had already filed their returns, decided to make a portion of the unemployment compensation taxpayers received in 2020 tax free. The IRS, in order to avoid millions of amended returns from being filed, has undertaken the task of automatically adjusting those returns and issuing refunds.

Using 2019 Income to Compute 2020 EITC and Additional Child Tax Credit – The EITC and the additional child tax credit are based on a taxpayer’s earned income (income from working). However, because a majority of those who normally benefited from EITC and the additional child tax credit were unemployed during 2020, Congress allowed the 2019 earned income to be used in computing those credits for 2020, which is also causing processing delays.

Other Issues – Other issues that cause delays in disbursing refunds include returns that are filed with missing information, those affected by identity theft and fraud, those filed with an injured spouse allocation on IRS Form 8379 (which can take a minimum of 14 weeks to process) and returns that warrant further review for other reasons.

You can use the IRS’s online tool “Where’s My Refund” to determine the status of your refund. To use that tool, you will need:

  • Social security number or ITIN
  • Your filing status
  • Your exact refund amount

As you can see, refunds are not being issued as quickly as they were in years prior to COVID and there is not anything a tax preparer or taxpayer can do about the IRS not paying out refunds once a return is electronically filed and accepted by the IRS.