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Millions of Americans are still waiting for their income tax returns to get processed.

Carolyn Exley of Dallas wrote me, “I submitted my tax form three months ago, and I check their refund website every other day with the same response — ‘In Process.’ I talked to an agent who put me on hold to research my account and then hung up. Now I’m livid. Any thoughts?”

Millions of Americans are still waiting for their income tax returns to get processed. Many of them await refunds. They’ve waited months.

Why is this happening?

Before I share what I learned from the Internal Revenue Service, let’s hear the real story from a former 38-year veteran IRS man, Phil Williams of Grand Prairie. Phil now works as an “IRS enrolled agent” which is someone who is authorized to represent taxpayers with the IRS.

Phil tells it straight.

“The IRS is broken right now,” he begins. “They’re understaffed, and their computers are not up to date. The problem is so much came in the mail during COVID-19 that it was stashed away, and they didn’t even open it and process it.

“A lot of people’s accounts that owed money to the IRS — they have levies or installment agreements — those stupid computers were still spitting out notices to the taxpayers. But the taxpayers may have already responded by sending in their payment.

“People’s correspondence to the IRS was not being processed. They have a tremendous backlog of mail.”

I asked, “What happens when people call the IRS phone line? Do they get through?”

“No,” the former IRS agent answered. “Right now, it’s impossible to get through to the IRS unless you pay for a service called enQ, and most professionals use that. I’m paying $60 a month. They’ll put you at the front of the line, but I’ve had to wait at least a couple of hours now because the system is so bad.”

He has learned to call at exactly 7 a.m. Central time when the East Coast offices open. But he says calls from 50 states come into one phone line.

“It’s just depressing. But for the ordinary taxpayer, there’s no way to get in. It’s horrible.”

What the IRS says

IRS spokesman Richard C. Sanford told me, “Certainly we can understand the frustration, but we are trying to let people know what’s going on.”

In an update released a few days ago, the IRS says it is up to date on returns processed before April of this year if there were no errors.

National Taxpayer Advocate reports the IRS backlog, as of June, was a record 35 million returns. As of this month, according to the IRS update, the agency is looking at 8 million unprocessed returns. Most of these had errors or require special attention because of various tax credits. Delays because of this can take up to four months.

One way the IRS is dealing with this is by sending unprocessed returns to IRS offices that don’t have huge backlogs.

Other reasons for delays include missing information and the potential of identity theft.

The IRS advises that taxpayers keep checking its “Where’s My Refund?” webpage. The IRS says you can review your account online, too.

COVID-19 has hit IRS staffers, who try to work maintaining social distancing. Other complications include staff shortages, changes in tax laws, stimulus checks and the child tax credit.

“We’re working hard to get through the backlog,” the IRS says on its webpage. “Please don’t file a second return or contact the IRS about the status of your return.”

It continues, “If you filed electronically and received an acknowledgment, you do not need to take any further action other than promptly responding to any requests for information.”

Filing a paper return, rather than an electronic one, is another cause for delay.

When you go to “Where’s My Refund?” on the web, you must enter your Social Security number and the exact amount of your expected refund (in dollars, without the cents). The IRS also has a mobile version called IRS2Go. (I haven’t tried it.)

By the way, Carolyn Exley received her refund five months after she filed her return at the end of March.

“I’ve calmed down,” she told me.

DAVE LIEBER, The Dallas Morning News’ The Watchdog investigative columnist, is the author of the new biography “Searching for Perot: My Journey to Discover Texas’ Top Family.” Visit www.perotbook.com.

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