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Some Taxpayers Wait Years for Refunds

S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
Apr 16, 2024


While the IRS tells taxpayers that their refunds usually come within three weeks of filing, some aren’t so lucky, as they could wait years, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The reasons for such extraordinary delays vary. They could be due to errors, inconsistencies or indications of possible identity theft that requires human review. Taxpayers might not get an explanation. 

The IRS said extreme refund delays are rare, but they have been exacerbated by recent backlogs in returns requiring additional review, the Journal reported. As of Dec. 21, the latest IRS data available, there were 686,000 individual returns waiting to be processed—mostly from last tax season and most due refunds. Of those, 600,000 require error correction or special handling. There are also 844,000 amended returns to be processed.

But news of a reduced backlog is of no comfort to those who still await refunds.

Chris Horan, 42, head of sales for a financial-services software company in Virginia Beach, Va., has been expecting his roughly $30,000 refund from tax year 2022 for more than a year. He regularly checks the IRS’s Where’s My Refund? site, only to get the same message, “We have received your tax return and it is being reviewed.” When he and his accountant call the IRS, the representatives keep suggesting to try again in another 60 days. 

“In no world would I think I’d be in April 2024 waiting for a 2022 refund,” he said. His 2023 refund arrived on April 8, just 20 days after he e-filed.

Taxpayers such as Horan should escalate the issue past the regular IRS customer-service line, said tax advisers interviewed by the Journal.

“When things go well, they go very, very well, but when something hits a snag, it’s a mess,” said Phyllis Jo Kubey, an enrolled agent in New York City. She just heard from a cellist client who got a $1,500 refund for tax year 2020 on March 8 of this year, plus $241.80 in interest. 

While taxpayers might have to file by April 15, the IRS has no deadline for issuing a refund check. Beyond 45 days after receiving the return, the government does have to pay interest, which resets quarterly and is now 8 percent. But interest payments from the IRS are taxable.

When refunds are delayed, taxpayers should first check the Where’s My Refund? tool to see if there is an explanation, the IRS said. To see the refund’s status, taxpayers need their Social Security number or taxpayer identification number, their filing status and the amount of their expected refund.

Twila Midwood, an enrolled agent in Rockledge, Fla., told the Journal that after waiting more than six weeks for a refund, taxpayers should call the IRS. The next step would be to file a Form 911, a request for assistance from the Taxpayer Advocate Service. In some cases, Kubey recommended that taxpayers reach out to their representatives in Congress.

But that may not resolve the situation, either.

Sandy Lerner of Brooklyn contacted the office of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in July because he had been waiting for a nearly $9,000 tax refund for his late mother since he filed an amended return in November 2020. She had unreimbursed medical expenses that weren’t claimed on the original return. 

He has been receiving monthly updates from Schumer’s office that suggest that a refund is forthcoming but that there is something wrong with IRS systems.

“At least Schumer’s office keeps me updated, with an entertaining message every month or so, even if they, too, are unable to penetrate the IRS bureaucracy,” said Lerner in an interview with the Journal.

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