The IRS Fuels Public Outrage Over Return Delays by Promoting Online Alternatives That It Knows Do Not Work.

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The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) processing backlog continues to keep numerous people in the dark regarding the status of their tax refunds. With many people turning to the IRS for assistance, the IRS stoked the fires of their aggravation this week by offering the same-old solutions—despite knowing that those solutions are of limited utility for individuals facing delays.

“Ordering a tax transcript is NOT a secret way to get a refund date,” the agency tweeted on Thursday. “Instead, use the #IRS web tool ‘Where’s My Refund?'”

The problem is that the online tool doesn’t indicate a reimbursement date for unprocessed returns, nor does it tell users what’s causing them to take so long. Rather, it displays generic and unhelpful information such as “Your return processing has been delayed beyond the regular timeframe.” Of course, everyone who is waiting for a return check in their bank account is well aware of this.

 

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In reality, the IRS has admitted that the Where’s My Refund? function is frequently ineffective. In its annual report to Congress last year, the National Taxpayer Advocate—an office within the IRS that acts as a kind of consumer watchdog—stated that “many taxpayers checking the tool could not secure specific information as to when they would receive their refund, and, equally important, what is causing the delay.” It suggested an update, but it would necessitate resources that the agency might not have.

With limited sources for current information, many taxpayers in online forums have discovered that by reading their tax transcripts at the correct time, they can occasionally acquire a direct-deposit date for their return. On Thursday, for example, several users in a Facebook group dedicated to tax refunds were ecstatic to discover the date March 9 on their newly updated transcripts, indicating that a deposit is on the way.

The IRS appears to prefer that taxpayers do not use transcripts for this reason, though it has been somewhat evasive in explaining why. Transcripts are “best and most typically used to authenticate prior income and tax filing status for mortgage, student, and small business loan applications, and to help with tax preparation,” according to a FAQ page on the subject.

In any case, it’s easy to see why the IRS’s tweet this week elicited such a harsh response from users who haven’t been able to obtain information about their refunds through the recommended means. “Isn’t this a joke?” one user asked.

It should be mentioned that the IRS social media staff is not necessarily to blame for this blunder. Because the agency is not supposed to engage with individual consumers regarding tax issues on social media, whoever handles its accounts is severely limited in their ability to communicate in any meaningful way.

 

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The IRS had a backlog of approximately 6 million unprocessed returns at the end of last year, and that was before the current tax season even began. Lawmakers in Congress have been at odds over how to address the issue, with Democrats arguing that the agency clearly needs more budget and some Republicans arguing that the IRS personnel should simply be put back to work.

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