When the pandemic struck last March, IRS employees, like many individuals around the nation, were also sent home, and the large workforce was not readily able to process returns remotely.
1040s soon piled up, creating a backlog that delayed the processing of millions of tax returns.
The IRS announced recently that it is opening mail within normal timeframes and has made significant progress in processing last year’s returns, but a mountain of paperwork still lies ahead.
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“We are just getting through the backlog of those mailed returns that were sitting unopened for many weeks in 2020,” said Raphael Tulino, an IRS spokesperson.
According to the IRS website, as of March 5, the IRS had 2.4 million individual tax returns received prior to 2021 in the processing pipeline. As of March 5, the IRS had 9.2 million unprocessed returns in the pipeline, including 2021 returns.
Tax returns are opened in the order received, so the IRS stresses patience, and more importantly, not to file a second time.
“We're asking for patience, understand the situation we're up against with two rounds of economic back payments, two filing seasons, an extension, all the new laws, legislation, the resource issues, the code environment to continue the process and get things done,” Tulino said.
But with the clock ticking toward this year’s extended May 17 deadline, taxpayers want to know whether they can file 2020 returns if their 2019 returns have yet to be processed.
The IRS said they can.
“The IRS will process a complete 2020,1040 if the taxpayer has not filed a prior year return,” IRS spokesperson Michael DeVine told NBC Responds.
DeVine directed NBC Responds to the IRS website, which offers this clarification, “If your 2019 return has not yet been processed, you may enter $0 (zero) as your prior year Adjusted Gross Income.”
But refunds are not the only financial benefit being held up.
Without their 2019 returns, many people said they missed out on their full economic payment.
There is help for that too.
“If you didn't get the full amount or a partial amount of an economic impact payment, round one or round two, and you qualify for more, this year on Form 1040, line 30, is the Recovery Rebate Credit. And that was set up for you to either get the full amount if you didn't get it last year for one reason or another or more,” Tulino said.