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The need to manually process tax returns is slowing refunds

If you feel like you’re having to wait longer than usual for your refund this year, you’re probably right. In prior years, tax refunds have generally been issued within 21 days of a return being filed. For many taxpayers right now, that time window has increased to as much as six or eight weeks.

Why? Well, the IRS was already burdened with COVID-related staffing shortages and the accompanying massive backlog of unopened mail in the wake of the CARES act when the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 was signed in December of 2020. This second round of stimulus required additional changes to IRS forms and software. Then, the American Rescue Plan went into effect on March 11, 2021—after the start of an already delayed tax season—and IRS was forced to incorporate yet more guidance to address the included relief for millions of taxpayers who received unemployment benefits in 2020.

Unfortunately for many early filers, the timing of COVID relief provisions is working against them. A recent article published by USA Today and posted on yahoo!Finance identified the single biggest challenge the IRS is facing in expediting 2020 refunds: Nearly 30 million returns require manual processing this year.

Among the reasons behind the unprecedented necessity for manual processing are insufficient time for software updates, inconsistencies on individual returns, and a lingering backlog of paper returns. 

If you’re one of the people waiting for a refund and want to check the status of your 2020 tax return you can try the  “Where’s My Refund?” tool on IRS.gov, and/or download the IRS2Go mobile app, which may have more specific information about your individual return.