Stimulus payments triggered millions of IRS ‘math error’ notices. The same may be looming for child tax credit recipients

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There has been a recent flood of “math error” notices from the IRS, which have been confusing for taxpayers and difficult to resolve, financial experts say. 

The IRS sent roughly 9 million such alerts from Jan. 1 through July 15, up from 628,997 in the same period last year, according to Taxpayer Advocate Service. About 7.4 million were related to stimulus payments.

“Just resolving the problem is a massive problem in itself,” said Larry Harris, a certified financial planner and director of tax services at Parsec Financial in Asheville, North Carolina.

As of Aug. 27, there was a backlog of 9.2 million unprocessed individual returns, including 2020 filings with errors, according to the IRS.

“One of the biggest issues we’re having is the reconciliation of stimulus payments,” said Dan Herron, a San Luis Obispo, California-based CFP and CPA with Elemental Wealth Advisors.

With multiple payment options and limited tracking, there has been a heap of discrepancies between the IRS and taxpayers, he said.

Math error notices typically reflect an adjustment to someone’s account, such as a balance due, or a smaller or larger refund. However, some notices may lack important details.

“The IRS is sending out balance due notices with no calculation or explanation analysis,” said Herron.

Moreover, it may take hours to reach an IRS agent by phone to find out the specifics, he said.

The IRS received more than 167 million phone calls during the 2021 filing season, but only 7% of taxpayers reached an agent, Taxpayer Advocate Service reported

Contacting the agency hasn’t been easy for tax professionals, either. 

“They’re putting a lot of people at a disadvantage,” said Herron. “Especially those that can’t necessarily afford to have [a tax professional] sit on the phone for hours at a time.” 

The IRS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But the agency said it’s correcting “significantly more errors on tax returns than in previous years,” in a website update from Sept. 3, and “will send taxpayers an explanation.” 

Since 2010, IRS funding has dropped by 19%, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

The agency shed more than 33,378 full-time employees from 2010 to 2020, the IRS reported, and despite staffing boosts since 2019, the workforce is still below 2010 levels. 

President Joe Biden proposed $80 billion in IRS funding over the next decade to fight tax evasion. However, the measure is still in flux as Congress wrestles over its $3.5 trillion budget plan.

The wealthiest 1% of Americans may be dodging as much as $163 billion in taxes every year, according to a U.S. Department of the Treasury report released Tuesday. 

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