IRS: Tax-filing season begins on Monday

The tax-filing season begins on Monday and officials expect the process to be more challenging for a beleaguered Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

The understaffed IRS will begin accepting individual tax returns for 2021, even though they are still processing a backlog of returns from the previous year.

IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said his teams have worked non-stop for months preparing for this tax season. But like most other parts of society, the COVID-19 pandemic has created obstacles that have hindered the workforce.

According to a report by FOX Business, more than 20% of the IRS customer service workforce has been unable to work for pandemic-related health reasons over the last two years. And the agency has 20,000 fewer staff than it did in 2010.

The IRS also spent much of the last two years processing stimulus checks while dealing with office closures and adapting to major changes to the tax code, thus the backlog.

Now the influx of 2021 tax filings, which will include the reflection of the expanded child tax credit payments, threatens to exacerbate the issue.

"In many areas, we are unable to deliver the amount of service and enforcement that our taxpayers and tax system deserves and needs," Rettig said. "This is frustrating for taxpayers, for IRS employees and for me."

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A U.S. Department of the Treasury Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 1040 Individual Income Tax form for the 2019 tax year is arranged for a photograph in Tiskilwa, Illinois, U.S., on Friday, March 20, 2020. (Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Gett

Though the pandemic continues to create challenges Rettig said there are important steps taxpayers can take to help ensure their tax return and refund don't face processing delays.

"Filing electronically with direct deposit and avoiding a paper tax return is more important than ever this year," Rettig said. "And we urge extra attention to those who received an Economic Impact Payment or an advance Child Tax Credit last year. People should make sure they report the correct amount on their tax return to avoid delays."

The Treasury Department also urges taxpayers to file their returns as soon as possible, saying that previous returns are not needed in order to submit 2021 returns.

Ideally, Americans can expect to see their returns within 21 days.

This year's deadline for filing taxes will be April 18, rather than the usual April 15. But extensions can be requested online by filling out Form 4868.

By pushing back the filing date, you can also avoid a failure-to-file penalty, which is an extra 5% per month on the unpaid amount. That can add up to 25% of the tax due.

If an extension is granted, you have until Oct. 15 before the penalty starts accruing — though experts caution that filing for an extension does not mean you can delay paying Uncle Sam the taxes that are owed.

This story was reported from Atlanta.