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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Michelle Singletary:

By Michelle Singletary Washington Post

If trouble truly comes in threes, prepare for another tumultuous tax season.

For the third year in a row, the IRS expects to face a tough time processing some returns, getting refunds out and answering taxpayer calls.

Treasury Department officials, in trying to manage people’s expectations, say the IRS will face enormous challenges related to the pandemic and years of underfunding. Ahead of the opening of the 2022 tax season, here are answers to some questions you may have if you’re expecting a refund.

When does tax season start?

The IRS says it will begin accepting and processing returns for the 2021 tax year on Jan. 24.

The filing deadline is pushed this year to April 18, because of the Emancipation Day holiday in D.C. Taxpayers in Maine and Massachusetts have until April 19 because of their Patriots’ Day holiday.

Should I offset 2021 taxes with the refund I am owed?

Unfortunately, no, you can’t offset any 2021 tax liability if you’re expecting a refund for 2020, IRS spokesman Eric Smith said.

Should I wait to file my 2021 return if my previous return hasn’t been processed?

You do not need to wait for your 2020 return to be fully processed to file your 2021 tax return, Smith said.

As soon as you have your 2021 records – W-2s, 1099s, other year-end statements – file your return.

What should I do if the IRS is still processing an amended return?

There isn’t anything you can do. As of Jan. 1, the IRS said it had 2.3 million unprocessed 1040-X forms.

Amended returns are processed in the order received. The current time frame can be more than 20 weeks instead of up to 16, the IRS said in an operations update.

I know you may be worried and think you need to file a second tax return. But don’t do it.

If you’re searching for the status of your amended return, try using the “Where’s My Amended Return?” tool on the IRS website.

What’s the fastest way to get my refund?

“Filing electronically with direct deposit and avoiding a paper tax return is more important than ever this year,” IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig said in a statement about the start of the tax season.

There are some people who must file a paper return. But avoid filing a paper return if you can. Treasury Department and IRS officials said they cannot emphasize that enough.

If you file electronically and have the IRS direct the money to a bank account, you should get your refund within 21 calendar days. That’s the usual time frame.

Do your best to triple-check everything on your return, National Taxpayer Advocate Erin M. Collins said.

“If a filed return is inconsistent with IRS records, it will require manual processing and likely will cause a delay in the issuance of the refund,” Collins said.

A mistake can result in having to file an amended return, and this is not the year to be in that position.

“Processing time frames for amended returns are likely to lengthen as we get into tax season,” Smith said.

How can I check the status of my refund?

If the IRS refund tracking tool “Where’s My Refund?” is working as intended, it can ease your mind about when to expect your money.

Processing delays – especially due to the pandemic – can result in vague messages on the tool. If your return hasn’t been processed, you won’t find out what’s causing a delay in your refund.

Will and Elizabeth Rodger are still waiting on their 2020 refund. The IRS owes the Alexandria, Virginia, couple a refund of about $8,900. They’ve been checking “Where’s My Refund?” but still no news of when they can expect their money.

They filed their federal return last March.

“It’s kind of ridiculous,” Will Rodger said. “We are OK, but there are a lot of people for whom, you know, this money is going to make a big difference in their lives, and this is really horrible that this is what’s going on.”

After checking for months on the whereabouts of their refund, the Rodgers say they are now receiving an electronic message that the IRS can’t provide any information about their refund. They haven’t received any correspondence from the IRS about why there’s a delay.

“It’s just bizarre,” Rodger said. “It’s just concerning.”

For more background information on refunds, including a set of frequently asked questions, visit

Why can’t I get anyone on the phone to explain my refund delay?

All you want is an answer, an explanation, something.

Yet, trying to call the IRS will probably lead to an increase in your blood pressure. Although, as many readers have pointed out, the IRS is quick to cash your check if you owe money.

What’s holding up your return or refund may not have anything to do with something you did or did not do.

Treasury Department and IRS officials say the delays are still partly pandemic-related but also the result of chronic staff shortages, budget cuts and old technology.

In the first half of 2021, the IRS said it had fewer than 15,000 people to handle more than 240 million calls, which translates to one person for every 16,000 calls received by the agency.

Of course, that’s little consolation if you’re waiting for a refund or for your tax issue to be resolved.

“I know it’s an extraordinary time for the IRS,” Elizabeth Rodger said. “I understand this, but this is people’s money. You would think someone would make this more of a priority.”

She’s right. This hot mess with the filing seasons is on Congress, not the poor souls slogging it out at home or in IRS offices across the country. They deserve better, and so do you.