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Are you still waiting on your 2020 tax refund? You are not alone. As of June 30, the IRS had yet to process 35 million tax returns that required manual processing. And though they're making progress, the IRS is still working through a mountain of stalled returns. Here's what to know and what to do if you're waiting on your refund.
Why Is Your Refund So Late?
The IRS typically processes tax returns and issues refunds within 21 days of receipt. However, this tax season is different. Working under COVID-19 restrictions slowed productivity at the IRS, causing a backlog. At the same time, massive new demands have been placed on the agency: Three rounds of stimulus payments since the pandemic began, new monthly Child Tax Credit payments, an extra round of refunds for Recovery Rebate Credits and a raft of new tax laws and COVID-related benefits that made tax returns more complicated for the 2020 tax year. Add in the limitations and age of many IRS systems, and you have a perfect storm of delay.
According to the IRS, your tax refund may also take longer to process if your tax return has any of the following issues:
- Missing information
- A need for additional review
- Possible identity theft
- A claim for an Earned Income Tax Credit or an Additional Child Tax Credit
- Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation, which can take up to 14 weeks to process
How Can You Find Out Your Refund Status?
The most efficient way to track your refund is through the IRS' Where's My Refund? tool or mobile IRS2Go app. Either one will show your tax return's status 24 hours after it's received. Your status will indicate one of the following:
- Received means your return is being processed.
- Approved indicates your return has been accepted and your refund amount is approved.
- Sent confirms that your refund is being direct-deposited into your bank account or mailed to you as a check.
If it's been more than 21 days since you e-filed your return—or six weeks since you mailed a paper return—you can also call the IRS at 800-829-1040 for a status update. Be forewarned: Phone lines are busy and capacity is limited. Only 3% of callers to the IRS "1040" helpline reached live help during the regular tax season.
Is there a simple way to speed up your refund payment? Although there is a process for requesting an expedited refund to cover hardship expenses (more in a moment), since most delays appear to be normal at this point, there may not be much you can do other than track your refund to make sure it isn't lost in transit.
E-filing your taxes (if you haven't filed them already) can help you eliminate the lengthy delays taking place as IRS workers manually input information from paper returns. And selecting direct deposit instead of a paper check lets you skip mailing delays. If your refund check is more than 28 days past the date the IRS mailed it, you can file an online claim for a replacement check.
How to Pay Bills While You Wait for Your IRS Refund
Waiting for a tax refund is never fun, but if you've weathered economic challenges during the pandemic, you may need your refund money to make ends meet. If you need help covering expenses while you're waiting, here are a few ideas for bridging the gap:
- Make a hardship request to the IRS. If your refund is being held up by a temporary backlog in processing, you can ask the IRS to expedite all or part of your refund to cover hardship expenses by calling (800) 829-1040 and explaining your situation. This is for serious hardships only; examples include eviction notices, utility shut offs and inability to pay for medication. You can only request enough money to cover your emergency hardship, and receiving this partial payment may delay the remainder of your payment.
- Put your budget into survival mode. Cut discretionary spending, make minimum card payments and postpone major purchases.
- Take advantage of 0% intro APR credit card offers. If you have good credit and are confident you'll manage a new account well, you may be able to find a 0% intro APR credit card offer on new purchases or balance transfers. Your current card issuers may also offer 0% APR balance transfers you can use to buy yourself some time on other accounts—and save on interest while you're waiting for your refund.
- Get a personal loan. Although it's wise to resist running up debt while you're waiting for critical funds, a personal loan could help you get your money now and pay it back later. Lenders that fund their loans quickly may be able to provide the emergency cash you need. To get the right loan for you:
- Leverage your good credit score to get the lowest possible APR.
- Try to keep your loan to the amount of your refund minus interest, so when your refund arrives, you can pay the whole loan off. Make sure your loan doesn't have any penalties for paying it off early.
- Stay clear of payday lenders, title lenders and other high-interest sources of fast cash. Sky-high interest could leave you owing far more than your refund amount.
- Look for ways to make money fast. Also seek opportunities to earn passive income. Gig work and selling your unwanted items online are two simple ideas for generating a few dollars.
- Seek financial assistance. Private charity and government relief programs may be able to help. Also look into credit counseling or similar help with student loans or medical debt.
- Adjust your 2021 withholding or estimates. Receiving a tax refund means you've overpaid your taxes. If the same thing is set to happen for the 2021 tax year, you may be able to reduce your withholding or estimated tax payments for the remainder of 2021. You won't receive a lump sum of cash, but you might increase your take-home pay. Try using the IRS Tax Withholding Estimator or check with your tax preparer before making any adjustments.
Waiting Is the Hardest Part
Tracking the progress of your tax return and refund won't make the money arrive any faster. But you may be able to allay some of your fears about your tax return never arriving or your refund getting intercepted by fraudsters by using Where's My Refund or IRS2Go to see exactly where you are in the process. The IRS assures taxpayers that they're making progress toward getting 2020 refunds paid out—hopefully soon, before the 2021 tax season is upon us.