35 Million: The Total Backlog of Tax Returns The IRS Had At The End Of Tax Season

35 Million: The Total Backlog of Tax Returns The IRS Had At The End Of Tax Season

IRS Backlog


The Internal Revenue Service has released a midyear report to Congress that details a significant backlog of tax returns dating back to the end of tax filing season, and many of those returns have yet to be processed. While backlogs are not unusual, this year’s is far greater than in previous years.

That’s bad news for those taxpayers who are eagerly waiting for tax refunds. For tax year 2020, roughly 70 percent of the individual returns that have already been processed have resulted in refunds being paid. Those refunds have averaged $2,827.00, but there were still more than 35 million returns for last year that had not yet been addressed by mid-May. An independent advocacy group within the IRS says that at the same point in time the previous year, there were a third the number of backlogged returns as now.

In writing the report, national taxpayer advocate Erin M. Collins said,

“For taxpayers who can afford to wait, the best advice is to be patient and give the I.R.S. time to work through its processing backlog. But particularly for low-income taxpayers and small businesses operating on the margin, refund delays can impose significant financial hardships.”

The agency issued a statement indicating that by June 18th, two months after the official filing deadline, almost seven million individual tax returns had been processed. Their work is ongoing continuously, addressing both current returns, those from previous years, and amended returns.  More than twice that many are currently being processed. 

Backlogs have been a problem in the past, but an evacuation order issued as a result of the pandemic kept IRS employees out of processing facilities, and that and the need to incorporate new tax legislation passed for the 2021 filing season has made things far worse. The agency was also responsible for sending out the third stimulus payment, bringing the total value of payments to $807 billion and the number processed over a 15-month period to 475 million. 

While 2019 saw a backlog of 7.4 million returns at the close of tax filing season and 2020’s backlog reached 10.7 million, 2021’s 35 million return backlog has led to several recommendations and objectives being issued to improve things in the future.

A large number of tax returns were processed before the tax filing deadline, and of those 136 million returns, 96 million required that refunds totaling about $270 billion be paid. Both individual returns and business returns are included in the 35.3 million that still need to be processed, and those in the backlog all require additional intervention from an IRS employee in order to be processed.

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