Are processing delays expected for paper returns to the IRS
March 19, 2020 11:34 PM   Subscribe

I have a wonderful semi-retired CPA tax guy who does a great job every year on my filing. He does it on paper and it always goes without a hitch. I also live in California where for the past week I have been restricted to my home, my place of work is closed until May, it is a ghost town outside etc etc. Because of family it would be good to have the cash and while I am not in a hurry, I worry that there will be delays in processing paper submissions if workers get sick or if they shut down. Is this a legit fear, should I spend the weekend typing it all into TurboTax?
posted by cgk to Work & Money (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The IRS says e-filers get their refunds faster. Additionally, software like Turbotax or the various free options automatically checks for common errors (like leaving off a phone number, or forgetting to include a form) that could get your paper form rejected and cause a serious delay.

They can also direct deposit a refund if you e-file, I don't think that's an option when you send in paper forms.

So I would e-file if possible if you want the fastest refund.
posted by mmoncur at 5:18 AM on March 20

(I don’t have an answer to the original question but you can indeed get a direct deposit refund with a paper return.)
posted by obfuscation at 5:32 AM on March 20

How fast are you hoping for your refund? Not sure if this is helpful, but here is a single data point for consideration. I was worried about refund delays and submitted an electronic return via TurboTax on Sunday 3/15 and per my bank, the refund is scheduled to hit my account on 3/23.
posted by ElizaMain at 7:46 AM on March 20

The Federal filing deadline has just been extended to July 15.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:06 AM on March 20

This opinion is my own and not that of the Internal Revenue Service.

TL; DR: Yes, file electronically for two reasons: COVID-19 and you are owed a refund. The government is holding your money, don't wait until July 15th to collect.

My first job at the Internal Revenue Service was as a Tax Clerk in the Receipt and Control Branch. We were the functional area that followed the Mail Room in the processing pipeline. Mail would get sanded open in the Mail Room and sorted by type, then it would get trundled into our area and I would grab a tray of 400 pieces of correspondence or From 1040s, etc. and then perform a finer sort and send it on its way.

I worked there so long ago that I was part of the first electronic filing test on employees, It was great! I walked over to the Magnetic Media Section and someone input my return and I got my refund faster. Eazy Peazy. It was great because my return bypassed the USPS, the truck ride from the main post office to the IRS Service Center, the Mail Room, people like me in R&C, Data Entry, etc. IMHO it is worth your time to type it into TurboTax this weekend. By some TP with your refund!
posted by Rob Rockets at 11:43 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]

I don't file in the US, so don't know how relevant this is for the OP's question: Does inputting your data into Turbotax this year make next year's return easier/faster/simpler than this year? Also, I would expect the virus thing to slow down mail and form handling, even if there are workers available to do it. Electronic lodgement is much healthier.
posted by GeeEmm at 2:09 PM on March 20

Agree with the consensus that if you want the money sooner, you should e-file. But don't necessarily use TurboTax. - especially not the paid version.
As mmoncur noted, there are free options to e-file. If you've already had your tax forms prepared, then the Free Fillable Forms is probably the easiest--you will literally be able to copy from your paper taxes to the online form. It's free, regardless of your income.
And again, it looks like it's possible to e-file with California for free, as well.

By all means, if you value the convenience, go ahead and pay for TurboTax or one of their competitors, but you have options to do it yourself without paying if you want to.
posted by yuwtze at 3:10 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone. I used to do taxes on my own and e-file, but started using a CPA when my finances became a bit more complicated. My concern wasn't so much about the refund turnaround time, but more along the lines of what happens if the processing sites slow down or go dark because of coronavirus. I didn't manage to find anything impacting the operation of the processing centers, and with the announcement of the delay in the filing deadline I figured that volumes would be down so I put it in the mail today. Cheers.
posted by cgk at 4:11 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]

You will have somewhat in a delay in processing. Depending on which processing center you get the work force will be shortened by as much as 50% in some offices which will inconvenience those with phone inquiries and payables. But the good news is that they pushed back the filing deadline to July 15 so if you are needing expedited refund your best bet is to ask for e-filing and select direct deposit. If you must do paper you will definitely be delayed receiving a refund.
posted by The_imp_inimpossible at 4:02 AM on March 21

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