Coronavirus: Millions of IRS income tax refund checks slowed with agency shutdown

If you have filed a federal income tax return this year and have yet to get a refund check, you have plenty of company.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to shut down some Internal Revenue Service operations, slowing the processing of millions of tax returns – and suspending the handling of paper filings.

More than 12 million of the 135.2 million tax returns received by the IRS through early June have not been processed, federal records show.

That’s a drop of more than 17 million returns processed compared to the same time last year, when the agency had received about 143.6 million filings, according to the IRS.

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Through June 5, the IRS had processed about 122.9 million returns, according to the agency’s website.

Because of the coronavirus outbreak “certain IRS services such as live assistance on telephones, processing paper tax returns and responding to correspondence are extremely limited or suspended until further notice,” the IRS said in an email.

“All taxpayer assistance centers remain temporarily closed, as are many volunteer tax preparation sites until further notice,” according to the agency.

President Donald Trump’s administration has extended the tax filing deadline to July 15. To track your refund, the IRS suggests using the website link:

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Automated phone lines which handle most taxpayer calls remain available, according to the IRS website. To check on regular tax refund status via automated phone, filers can call 800-829-1954.

It’s uncertain how long Robert Riley will have to wait to receive his refund check. The 77-year-old retired longtime Englewood resident said in mid-March he filed a paper return by U.S. mail, as did about 4.5 million taxpayers, according to IRS records.

Paper returns account for about 10 percent of all federal filings and they “will be processed once processing centers are able to reopen,” Luis D. Garcia of the IRS said.

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The agency continues to process electronic tax returns, issue direct deposit refunds and accept electronic payments, Garcia said.

The week Riley mailed in his return was about the same the IRS started its shutdown, said Stephen Updegraff, founder and CEO of UAI Accounting and Tax Services in Beavercreek.

“I would imagine anybody who had paper filed probably from February into early March definitely would have a long delay because nobody was at the IRS for a couple of months,” Updegraff said. “The IRS was pretty much shut down for any sort of processing” until “very recently…and they’re still not fully functional.”

Unaware that the processing of paper returns was suspended, in mid-April Riley said he got concerned about his filing’s status. Inquiries to the IRS website indicated “there was no information available” and Riley said he made calls to Ohio Congress members offices to no avail.

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He then repeatedly called the IRS and still “can’t get a hold of them.”

As of June 3, the IRS has delivered 159 million economic impact payments checks as part of the COVID-19 relief package, Garcia said. But that’s little solace to Riley.

“I think the federal government should be able to do more than one job at one time,” he said. “And they have a division that handles taxes.

“People need their money. I find it hard to believe the federal government cannot do two things at one time,” he added. “I don’t believe that.”

Some area tax services that file electronic returns said they have not experienced any delays. Scott Hull of Padgett Business Services of Dayton said his firm has filed about 500 returns and no clients have asked about their refund status.

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Updegraff said his firm handled about 400 returns with no issues with receiving refund checks. But Updegraff said he filed an electronic return for his taxes the third week of March and got his refund about a week ago.

“With the situation with the COVID-19 everything has been out of sorts this year, including income tax preparation,” he said.

“It’s been a very difficult year for tax professionals with all of the new legislation and moving to working remotely and electronically,” Updegraff added. “It’s just been a challenging year in every way. And unfortunately, we’ve just got to work with it and it will pass eventually.”

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The following numbers indicate U.S. tax filing work by the Internal Revenue Service through the first week of June in the past two years.

2019 2020

Tax returns received: 143.65M 135.2M

Tax returns processed: 140.8M 122.9M

E-filing receipts: 129.9M 122.4M

Total refunds: 104M 91.9M

Direct deposit refunds: 88.4M 76.1M


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