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Exercising patience with tax returns

Frustration continues to mount for many families still wondering when they will receive their badly needed economic stimulus payments from the federal government to help them through the coronavirus pandemic.

The seed for that frustration is no secret; the blame rests with Congress’ months of stonewalling, as well as not enough clamor by the American people on behalf of the needed objective.

Meanwhile, looking back on last year’s tax-filing season for the 2019 tax year, millions of Americans cannot erase from their minds the hardships they encountered as a result of income-tax-refund delays that extended well into the summer.

Internal Revenue Service facilities were shut down for an extended period, with many paper returns — even many mailed to the IRS during the first days of the tax-filing season — reportedly stored in trailers for months while electronic returns were given priority by employees working remotely.

For the IRS, last year’s tax-filing season provided — or should have provided — a road map for a better experience involving 2020 returns — returns to which many taxpayers already are directing attention, or at least gathering necessary documentation to enable actual preparation.

However, unfortunately, this year’s 2020 tax filing already is shaping up to be another nightmare and, all considered, perhaps a nightmare much worse than what was experienced last year.

Tax filers should not forget where the blame rests when their bills and other obligations are coming due and they lack adequate funds to make payments.

The stimulus package that was passed last month wasn’t generous, but at least it offered the promise of some temporary financial breathing room.

But while some needy families have gotten the payments for which they are eligible, many still haven’t, and those non-recipients have a right to be frustrated and angry about the uncertainty they are experiencing.

They don’t deserve what they are being dealt.

Now is the right time to reflect on the reasons for the unfortunate circumstances about to come and, most importantly, on what steps to take to navigate the hardships many families are about to endure.

Then there is the delay in the start of the tax-filing season itself.

In a normal year, the IRS would begin allowing people to file returns in late January. This year, because the federal tax agency still is grappling with last-minute changes to the tax law, the IRS will not begin accepting individual income-tax returns until Feb. 12 — a troubling situation for many early filers.

The tax agency said on Jan. 15 that it also needed time to program and test its computer systems after the delayed passage of the relief law late December — a legitimate excuse. However, the agency hasn’t been very forthcoming about specifics related to eliminating many of the delays and seemingly irresponsible tax-return storage and priority “techniques” that were in place for 2019 returns.

“We ask taxpayers to be patient,” the IRS said in a statement.

In most years leading up to this one, mustering such patience would have been easier.

But with all the challenges and hardships that evolved in 2020 and remain alive in 2021, is that really too much to ask?

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