In a punishing tax season plagued by technical glitches and constantly changing regulations, millions of Americans are still facing unresolved delays as they wait for their much-needed refund checks. Some have been waiting since the 2021 tax season officially opened back in February.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is working to unbury itself from a massive backlog of unprocessed returns, and in doing so, it is opting to review many of them manually, which can delay the process even further.
One common reason for a manual review? Simple math errors.
In fact, math and clerical errors have increased significantly this year, in part because changes related to the Child Tax Credit and the Recovery Rebate Credit have made filing taxes more complicated for everyday Americans. According to a new update from the Taxpayer Advocate Service—an independent office within the IRS that acts as a kind of watchdog—the IRS has made 9 million error corrections on tax returns during the first half of this year. That’s compared to only 628,997 during the same period last year.
Among this year’s corrections, 7.4 million returns were passed on to what the IRS calls the “Error Resolution System,” meaning they have to be reviewed further for mistakes or omissions. That’s where the delays really kick in.
The good news is, the IRS will tell you if a math error is holding up your return. It will send you a notice informing you of the correction and any changes to your refund that will result from it.
The bad news? You may be utterly confused by this notice. “Many math error notices are vague and do not adequately explain the urgency the situation demands,” the TAS writes. “In fact, in some instances, math error notices don’t even specify the exact error that was corrected, but rather provide a series of possible errors that may have been addressed by the IRS through its math error authority.”
Confusing notices are a problem, the TAS writes, because taxpayers have only 60 days to dispute corrections. Of course, it’s hard to know if you dispute a change when you don’t understand it.
If you believe your delay is the result of a math or clerical error, for now all you can do is wait to hear from the IRS. Be on the lookout for one of two notices: Notice CP11 or Notice CP12. (The CP stands for Computer Paragraph.) CP11 means a correction was made and you owe taxes, while CP12 means a correction was made and your refund amount has changed. If you think the correction was made in error, it’s critical that you follow the instructions on the notice for how to respond and do so within 60 days.
Check out the full update from TAS for more information.