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The IRS has a big backlog — could you still get a delayed tax refund?

·4 min read
The IRS has a big backlog — could you still get a delayed tax refund?
The IRS has a big backlog — could you still get a delayed tax refund?

The IRS started distributing the government's third stimulus check of the pandemic way back on March 12, and even though eight months have passed, many people haven't stopped hoping for a fourth check. But Congress has moved on.

Still, you might receive another payment from the IRS this year — because the tax agency hasn't finished issuing refunds. And, incidentally, those have been running larger than last year's.

The tax agency is working to clear out a huge backlog of millions of unprocessed tax returns, and you could get a long-overdue refund that you've been counting on, or a surprise refund to provide a windfall you could use to catch up on travel, sweeten your savings, or deal with debt.

More refunds, and bigger refunds this year

Internal Revenue Service building exterior
AevanStock / Shutterstock

Anyone who's owed a tax refund may have to wait a bit longer. The IRS reports that as of Nov. 3, it was still buried under 6.8 million individual tax returns waiting to be processed.

But the agency has already handled more than 166 million of this year's returns — up 3.9% versus the similar stats from this time in 2020.

Here are a few more of this year's big numbers from the IRS:

  • It has paid out $355 billion in refunds, up nearly 15% from this time last year.

  • Over 128 million people have received refunds, an increase of 3% compared to 2020.

  • Visits to IRS.gov were up nearly 20%.

If you're waiting to get some money back, chances are it will be worth the wait. Refunds are bigger this year, at an average $2,775 — 11% more than last year's $2,495.

Many taxpayers have received unexpected extra refunds in 2021, which is a reason for the larger average.

A law passed in March gave a big tax break to people who collected unemployment benefits last year. Millions who filed their taxes ahead of the law have been receiving surprise refunds — and the IRS says more of those are on the way.

Why the IRS is so swamped

stacks of unopened mail

Several factors, mostly related to the pandemic, have conspired to keep the IRS digging through piles of returns.

The tax agency, which was still trying to catch up from a 2020 COVID lockdown, this year found itself dealing with the extra work of distributing a third stimulus check, plus special, monthly payments to families from a temporary expansion of the child tax credit.

The IRS says it's still facing pandemic-related delays in:

  • Providing live phone support.

  • Processing paper tax returns.

  • Answering mail from taxpayers.

  • Reviewing tax returns, even those filed electronically.

What if you’re still waiting for money back? Your best option is to check the status of your return by using the IRS Where’s My Refund? tool.

If you can't wait for the IRS

Young couple reviewing invoices and doing family business plan. Concept of money and economic problem for man and woman living together
Diego Cervo / Shutterstock

If you're waiting for a long-delayed IRS payout or aren't likely to score one of those surprise refunds, here are some tips if you need extra cash right now.

  • Cut the cost of your debt. Though credit cards are convenient when you’re short on cash, the interest can turn into a serious financial drain. If you leaned too heavily on your plastic during the pandemic, a lower-interest debt consolidation loan can slash your interest costs and make your debt more manageable.

  • Tame your student loans. Americans are saddled with nearly $139 billion in student loan debt owed to banks and other private lenders, according to data firm MeasureOne. But interest rates on student loan refinances are at historic lows. By refinancing your student loan, you could save thousands in interest and potentially pay off the debt years ahead of schedule.

  • Score deals when you shop online. To save some money every time you shop online, try using a free browser extension that will automatically scour for better prices and coupons.

  • Profit from your pocket change. It doesn't take a lot of money to make money in the record-shattering stock market. A popular app helps you invest your "spare change" from everyday purchases — and grow your pennies into a diversified portfolio.

This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.