IRS Tax News

National Taxpayer Advocate issues midyear report to Congress; expresses concern about continued refund delays and poor taxpayer service

IR-2022-129, June 22, 2022

WASHINGTON — National Taxpayer Advocate Erin M. Collins today released her statutorily mandated midyear report to Congress. The report expresses concern about continuing delays in the processing of paper-filed tax returns and the consequent impact on taxpayer refunds. At the end of May, the agency had a backlog of 21.3 million unprocessed paper tax returns, an increase of 1.3 million over the same time last year.

"The IRS has said it is aiming to crush the backlogged inventory this year, and I hope it succeeds," Collins wrote. "Unfortunately, at this point the backlog is still crushing the IRS, its employees, and most importantly, taxpayers. As such, the agency is continuing to explore additional processing strategies."

The report points out that the significant majority of individual taxpayers receive refunds. "At the end of the day, a typical taxpayer cares most about receiving his or her refund timely," Collins wrote. "Particularly for lower income taxpayers who receive Earned Income Tax Credit benefits, tax refunds may constitute a significant percentage of their household income for the year. Thus, these processing delays are creating unprecedented financial difficulties for millions of taxpayers and outright hardships for many."

Among business taxpayers, many have been waiting extended periods to receive Employee Tax Retention Credits for which they are eligible, in addition to their regular refunds.

Key taxpayer challenges this year have included return processing delays, correspondence processing delays, and difficulty reaching the IRS by phone.

Backlog of Unprocessed Paper Tax Returns

More than 90% of individual income taxpayers e-file their returns, yet last year, about 17 million taxpayers filed their returns on paper. Some choose to file on paper. Some have no choice because they encounter e-filing barriers, such as when they are required to file a tax form or schedule the IRS cannot accept electronically. Before the pandemic, the IRS typically delivered refunds to paper-filers within four to six weeks. Over the past year, refund delays on paper-filed returns have generally exceeded six months, with delays of 10 months or more common for many taxpayers.

The report says the IRS has failed to make progress in eliminating its paper backlog because "its pace of processing paper tax returns has not kept up with new receipts." During the month of May, the IRS processed an average of about 205,000 individual income tax returns (Forms 1040) per week. Its Form 1040 backlog at the end of May stood at 8.2 million, with millions more paper tax returns not yet classified or expected to arrive before the extended filing deadline of October 15. The report says the IRS would have to process well over 500,000 Forms 1040 per week – more than double its current pace – to eliminate the backlog this year. "The math is daunting," the report says.

Forms 1040 are just one component of the paper tax returns processing backlog. Millions of business tax returns and amended tax returns (both individual and business) are also filed on paper. The overall backlog has increased by 7% over the past year as shown in the Figure 1.

Figure 1: Status of Unprocessed Paper Tax Returns Comparing Weeks Ending May 22, 2021, and May 27, 2022

Paper Returns Awaiting Processing – 2021 Individual Business Not Specified Total
Original Returns 6,100,000 5,600,000 5,100,000 16,800,000
Amended Returns 2,700,000 500,000 3,200,000
Total Paper Returns Awaiting Processing 8,800,000 6,100,000 5,100,000 20,000,000
  • Subscribe to our newsletter

  • Pin It on Pinterest

    Call Now Button