Tax refund / frankieleon, flickr, CC-BY-2.0

During the 2021 tax season, the Internal Revenue Service processed 136 million individual income tax returns and issued 96 million refunds, totaling about $270 billion. In a recent mid-year presentation to Congress, the Taxpayer Advocacy Service reported there was a backlog of over 35 million individual and business tax returns from the past fiscal year. That’s a historically high number.

When IRS offices and mail facilities closed in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, IRS employees were unable to receive paper documents from taxpayers. The lack of digital communications options made it difficult to process returns.

Right now there are roughly:

  • 16.8 million paper tax returns waiting to be processed.
  • 15.8 million returns suspended during processing that require further review.
  • 2.7 million amended returns awaiting processing.

Haven’t received your stimulus check or tax refund yet? Here are some frequently asked questions and resources that may help:

Why are there delays?

Expect delays if you mailed a paper return, had to respond to an IRS inquiry about your return that was filed electronically, claimed an incorrect Recovery Rebate Credit amount OR used 2019 income to claim the earned income tax credit (EITC) or advanced child tax credit (ACTC).

Your return might also be delayed if it: 

  • Has errors.
  • Is incomplete.
  • Is suspected of identity theft or fraud.
  • Includes earned income tax credit or additional child tax credit.
  • Needs further review.
  • Includes Form 8379, injured spouse allocation, which may take up to 14 weeks to process.

The IRS began sending the third Economic Impact Payments to eligible individuals on March 12. The IRS is still sending stimulus checks as it continues to process returns. If you recently filed your 2020 tax return but the IRS did not have the correct information on file to send a payment to you, you may receive your stimulus check soon. Do not file a second tax return.

How can I track my refund and/or stimulus check?

Create and account and check the status online: Get My Payment

What does “Suspended” status mean? 

Over 6 million returns are currently in “suspense,” either because they need to be manually processed or there are inconsistencies.

Can I call the IRS?

Not if you are able to wait. The IRS received four times as many phone calls this year as a normal filing year and the agency is still struggling to meet demands. You should only call if:

  • It’s been over 21 days since you filed online.
  • Where’s My Refund?” tells you to contact the IRS.

Where can I go for help?

The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is an independent organization within the IRS that ensures equity and helps taxpayers understand their rights. When you call TAS, they will connect you with a Centralized Case Intake (CCI) team. They will guide you through the process to receive help. You can download the IRS2Go app on your phone, or call 877-777-4778.

Who is eligible for TAS assistance?

If you’re currently experiencing or have experienced any of the following, you are eligible to open a case with TAS:

  • Significant financial hardship and/or negative long-term adverse impacts (bankruptcy, eviction, etc.)
  • A delay of more than 30 days with your tax account problem

How do I open a case with TAS?

If your status says “suspended,” you are not eligible for TAS. TAS cannot accept refund delay cases that are in suspense. To open a case, fill out Form 911: Request for Taxpayer Advocate Service Assistance


Kaley LaQuea is an award-winning multi-media journalist who has created content since 2008. She is passionate about economic, environmental and social justice. She has an unhealthy relationship with coffee and his two cats: Totoro and Mononoke. Kaley is a contributor from Noticias Para Inmigrantes.