From the National Society of Accountants

Over the years, the IRS has gotten quite good at processing tax returns and issuing refunds quickly and efficiently. The IRS website says that normal processing time for an electronically filed return is 21 days, but in reality, millions of taxpayers receive their refunds even quicker — sometimes within a week,  sometimes in days.

Similar to past years, IRS employees are working tirelessly to get taxpayers their much-needed refunds as quickly as possible. However, a combination of the high volume of 2020 tax returns requiring manual processing, the backlog of unprocessed 2019 paper tax returns, congressional mandates to issue economic impact payments (EIPs) and provide other relief to taxpayers during the pandemic, limited resources, and technology issues have contributed to more refund delays and longer refund delays than are typical in a normal filing season.

On a positive note, the IRS has processed over 91 million 2020 Forms 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Returns, issued about 68 million refunds to date, and is in the process of delivering the third round of EIPs. To date, the IRS has provided over 159 million EIPs to individuals and their families in the middle of the filing season and has taken steps to program its systems so that, unlike last year, taxpayers will not have to take additional steps to receive an increased EIP based upon the filing of their 2020 federal income tax return. After the processing of the 2020 Form 1040, if applicable, taxpayers should receive an increased EIP. It is good news for taxpayers that the IRS will be making periodic payments throughout 2021 to “push up” the third round of EIPs previously issued based upon their 2019 income tax return.

But the 2021 Filing Season Has Been Challenging at Best

Some additional complexities this year necessitated manual reconciliation of returns, slowing down processing times. For example, any inconsistencies between the IRS’s records for the EIP and the recovery rebate credit (RRC) reflected on a taxpayer’s 2020 Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR, U.S. Tax Return for Seniors, require manual review and corrections before processing.

A manual review of a tax return is also required if the taxpayer elected the 2019 “income lookback” to calculate the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC). More specifically, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, signed into law Dec. 27, 2020, included a lookback rule allowing taxpayers to elect to use their 2019 income for the purpose of calculating their EITC or ACTC on their 2020 tax return.

Due to the late passage of the law, the IRS was unable to timely adjust its forms and computer systems before the start of the filing season to allow for systemic processing of returns where taxpayers elected to use 2019 income. Thus, the IRS had to create a manual process instead.

Any corrections to the RRC or verification of the 2019 lookback election is being manually processed by IRS’s Error Resolution System (ERS) unit, and the IRS is placing the associated return in “suspense” until an IRS employee can review it to verify the 2019 income or the prior EIP. Essentially, the return is in a queue waiting to be reviewed and processed, and during this time, it is not evident on IRS systems why the return is being held.

Holding returns has resulted in a significant increase in ERS inventory and delays in taxpayer refunds. In April, more than eight million individual returns (Form 1040 or 1040-SR) were in suspense status awaiting review and manual processing. For context, during a normal filing season when the ERS unit is fully operational, it does not suspend returns, as it is able to review and process them as they come in.

In addition to the eight million returns of individuals in the IRS ERS unit, there are millions of other returns in other IRS units also awaiting manual processing:

  • 3 million individual 2019 and 2020 paper returns;
  • 7 million individual returns with processing errors or fraud identification issues requiring responses from taxpayers; and
  • 11 million business and other returns.

In total, the IRS is now holding over 29 million returns for manual processing. As one would expect, IRS employees are stretched thin working through the manual processing of these returns, so if a taxpayer’s return is pulled for manual processing, there will be delays.

If you have questions about the Enhanced Child Tax Credit , contact Kleshinski, Morrison & Morris CPAs for answers. Call our local offices at 419-756-3211, send an email to us at, or complete our Contact Us form at this link.