IRS Faces Unprecedented 35 Million Unprocessed Tax Return Backlog

For many Americans still waiting to receive their tax refund, it appears the wait could be far from over.

The National Taxpayer Advocate’s federally authorized report to Congress found that the IRS held an unprecedented number of tax returns for manual processing this year, leading to major delays and millions of Americans waiting months for their refunds.

“The 2021 filing season was the quintessential definition of a perfect storm,” the report says. “No one could have predicted a global pandemic or the lasting and lingering impact to taxpayers, IRS employees, and tax administration during the last 15 months. To state the obvious, this filing season has been challenging for tens of millions of taxpayers and anything but normal for the IRS and its employees.”

At the end of the 2021 filing season, the IRS had 35.3 million unprocessed returns, four times more than just two years ago.

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“Processing delays matter greatly because most taxpayers overpay their tax during the year via wage withholding or quarterly payments and are entitled to receive refunds (this filing season, 70 percent of individual income tax returns had associated refunds, with an average refund of $2,827),” the reports says. “Until the IRS can manually work through the over 35 million unprocessed tax returns, it will not be able to issue refunds to impacted taxpayers.”

The IRS pointed to COVID delays as a key cause of the backlog.


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