Come Labor Day and the roll out of pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks, you’d think, maybe, that you’d finally have your hands on your federal income tax refund.
For most people, after all, tax refund cash has come and gone. They spent that money months ago. Others are waiting and waiting, much like Carol Wilke who filed a tax return the day after the Super Bowl and still had not seen her tax refund of $1,406 seven months later.
The 2020 tax season isn’t running short of frustrating scenarios even as the calendar inches closer to 2021. COVID-19 shutdowns threw a monkey wrench into the tax system.
And some, such as those who filed paper tax returns, faced way more headaches and confusion than others as piles and piles of paperwork sit untouched.
At one point, the IRS needed to move a lot of unopened mail into trailers as processing centers were shut down during the pandemic.
Households facing job losses and financial stress in 2020 only feel more aggravation when they can’t depend on a four-figure income tax refund arriving on time.
Mixed messages fill the air, much like autumn leaves, when it comes to what to do about getting your tax refund.
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The Internal Revenue Service has acknowledged delays involving the filing of paper returns as a result of what it calls “COVID-19 mail processing delays.”
As of an Aug. 31 update, the IRS states online: “We’re experiencing delays in processing paper tax returns due to limited staffing. If you already filed a paper return, we will process it in the order we received it. Do not file a second tax return or contact the IRS about the status of your return.”
The IRS noted: “To protect the public and employees, and in compliance with orders of local health authorities around the country, certain IRS services such as live assistance on telephones, processing paper tax returns and responding to correspondence continue to be extremely limited.”
So many people feel like all they can do is just sit there and wait.
Carol Wilke emailed me the day after Labor Day after reading my column in her local paper, the Idaho Press.
I responded immediately by suggesting that she contact the IRS National Taxpayer Advocate helpline at 877-777-4778.
Wilke told me that she called the number and waited 30 minutes or so on hold. But then she was transferred to a customer service line at the IRS and waited another 30 minutes.
“Make sure your phone is charged,” Wilke told me.
Overall, though, she was fairly happy and hopeful that she and her husband Martin could be on a better track to seeing their $1,406 federal income tax refund one day.
“A very helpful woman there researched our account and found our return was never received,” said Wilke, 73, who is retired after 23 years of working for Boise State University.
Wilke said the IRS representative told her that the couple’s tax return probably got misplaced at either the post office or at the IRS when it finally got delivered.
Wilke said the woman advised her to refile and that the IRS is recommending that some others do the same if they’ve not heard a word about their return or cannot track a refund via the IRS “Where’s My Refund?” tool.
Wilke tried to file electronically. But she wanted to file the new 1040-SR form for seniors and couldn’t do it electronically. So she’s going to mail in a new form.
“We’re going to mail it certified mail – and you cross your fingers because the post office is under attack from the federal government,” she said.
Warning here: We have no idea if this will work. And there’s a chance that something that applies to the Wilke’s return doesn’t apply to other returns. The IRS did not give a comment on Wilke’s phone call or situation.
The IRS officially continues to stress that tax filers who filed paper returns should not file a second 2019 return. Individuals who receive late refunds will receive interest.