December 23, 2023

Nothing strikes fear into the hearts of taxpayers like an unopened letter from the IRS. There’s something about seeing the familiar black and white envelope—typically, only refund checks have color—that makes you feel that something must be wrong.

And increasingly, there’s a reason for it.

Over the past year, the IRS has been slow to process tax returns but has appeared to continue to issue failure-to-file and failure-to-pay notices. That has clogged mailboxes with letters seeking returns that have already been filed or payments that have already cleared.

As those notices frustrate taxpayers, the IRS has ramped up issuing other correspondence—specifically, math error notices. While the IRS made 628,997 math error corrections last year through July 15, 2020, the IRS made about 9 million math error corrections on returns filed by taxpayers in the same period in 2021—a more than 1400% increase.

What accounts for the increase? Most of those notices—about 7.4 million—were related to the refund recovery credit, or RRC. The RRC is claimed on Form 1040 to reconcile stimulus payments received in 2020. Most likely, taxpayers made errors when calculating the amounts of the checks due or actually received.

But the remaining notices—still at a pace of two-and-a-half times more than in the prior year—were issued by the IRS for other reasons.

Here’s how math errors work. It’s not as simple as it sounds—your failure to carry the one when subtracting, or adding too…

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