By Andrew Keshner
Taxpayers should be ready for delays processing 2021 tax returns, IRS officials say.
Ready for your 2021 tax refund? Mark your calendars because Jan. 24 is the date the Internal Revenue Service will start accepting and processing 2021 income tax returns.
The 2022 tax season will run from Monday, Jan. 24 to Monday, April 18, the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service said Monday -- but brace yourself for potentially sluggish service as the underfunded, understaffed and backlogged IRS juggles another filing season, Treasury officials said.
The 2022 filing season arrives as Capitol Hill negotiations over the Biden administration's Build Back Better bill seem stalled. The bill would include adding $80 billion over a decade to the IRS budget for more staff and better technology to catch tax cheaters, as well as funding to improve customer service.
"In many areas, we are unable to deliver the amount of service and enforcement that our taxpayers and tax system deserves and needs. This is frustrating for taxpayers, for IRS employees and for me," said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig.
Exhibit A: telephone customer service for taxpayers or preparers with questions. Less than 15,000 IRS staffers were available to field more than 240 million calls through the first half of 2021, Treasury officials said.
By May, as taxpayers dealt with pandemic-related tax provisions, call demand on the individual taxpayer phone lines was 456% above the same point one year earlier, according to an IRS report. The number of "disconnects" from people trying to call into taxpayer assistance centers was 2,000% higher than the prior year.
The Build Back Better bill would have also renewed the enhanced child tax credit payments through 2022. But the future of these monthly payments are in question for 2022, so the 2021 income tax refunds hitting bank accounts could be a much-needed surge in cash for many parents. The average individual refund on 2020 returns was $2,815 as of early December, according to the IRS.
Without processing delays or errors in a taxpayer's return, the IRS should be able to hit its traditional turnaround time, which gets refunds to people within 21 days from when the agency receives the return, Treasury officials said Monday.
The IRS is processing more individual and business returns, even with a staff that's contracted over the years. For example, in fiscal year 2021, the IRS had almost 82,000 workers on staff, including around 10,500 temporary and seasonal staff. The staffing numbers are an increase from fiscal year 2019 levels, but still lower than 2010 numbers, the agency said.
By early December, the IRS had received over 169 million individual 2020 returns. In 2021, the IRS received more than 53 million business returns, an almost 18% increase from the previous year, according to its report this month
"Planning for the nation's filing season process is a massive undertaking, and IRS teams have been working non-stop these past several months to prepare," Rettig said. "The pandemic continues to create challenges, but the IRS reminds people there are important steps they can take to help ensure their tax return and refund don't face processing delays."
The best way to avoid a delay is to file electronically (instead of via a paper return) with direct deposit, IRS officials noted. It's also crucial that numbers on the return are accurate to avoid snags and delays. (Direct deposit refunds accounted for 91% of all refunds issued last year, the IRS said. That's a more than 9% rise from 2020.)
The IRS is sending out important letters on amounts it paid households last year for child tax credit payments and the third round of stimulus checks. It's important to watch out for those letters, tax professionals say
The IRS is still wading through a backlog of 2020 tax returns. As of Dec. 23, it still had 6 million unprocessed returns. Errors and "special handling" to address discrepancies in the returns are some of the reasons, the IRS said. Typically just ahead of a filing season, the IRS would have a backlog of unaddressed mail and documents below 1 million, Treasury officials said.
Taxpayers can request a filing extension through Oct. 17, the April 18 due date represents the final day to pay up on 2021 federal income taxes. After that point, the IRS can arrange installment plans. Taxpayers in Maine or Massachusetts have until April 19, 2022, to file their returns due to the Patriots' Day holiday in those states.
Last year, tax season began on Feb. 12 and the original plan was to have the traditional April 15 deadline. Midway through the season, the IRS pushed the payment deadline to May 17, to accommodate frazzled taxpayers, tax preparers and the many twists from new tax provisions in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
There are currently no plans to extend the filing deadline this year, Treasury officials said Monday.
Barry Melancon, president and CEO of the American Institute of CPAs, said that while the Treasury Department acknowledged a rocky road ahead, officials "stopped short of providing any measures they intend to implement to mitigate the expected challenges."
The AICPA hasn't been shy about suggesting ways to ease processing woes and taxpayer headaches and the IRS should take heed, Melancon noted.
"For more than 18 months, the AICPA has repeatedly and publicly recommended to the IRS that they take reasonable actions that would meaningfully reduce persistent, unnecessary and erroneous notifications and help American taxpayers," Melacon said.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
01-15-22 1222ETCopyright (c) 2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.