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Published: Feb 18, 2022 9 min read
Messy jigsaw puzzle pieces of a 1040 Tax Form
Money, Getty Images

If you think your winter blues are bad right now, just wait 'til you hear about the IRS.

At the same time Americans are beginning to file their 2021 tax returns — which are tricky enough for the agency to process due to pandemic policies like the stimulus checks and advance child tax credit payments — IRS staffers are frantically working to clear a massive backlog of old paperwork.

The most recent filing season statistics, which came out Friday, show that more than 26 million tax returns for 2021 have already been turned in, with nearly 9 million resulting in refunds.

"The IRS is off to a strong start to this year's tax season," the agency said in a statement.

But this is the third tax filing season that's taken place during the COVID-19 crisis, and the cracks are arguably starting to show for the overwhelmed, under-staffed IRS. According to a January report from the Taxpayer Advocate Service, the IRS was only able to answer 11% of the 282 million customer service calls it got in 2021. Tons of tax returns for 2020 are still being processed, and some Americans haven't gotten their tax refunds yet.

None of this bodes well for 2022.

"I suspect the problems this year will only add to people’s frustration," Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, writes in an email to Money. "Their inability to get questions answered by phone or on the website, struggles setting up an online account, and confusion about issues such as the child tax credit will hurt the agency’s credibility even more. To the degree they have to wait a long time for refunds, they will get even more frustrated."