The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) retroactively excluded some 2020 unemployment benefits from taxable income. Generally, taxpayers with modified adjusted gross incomes below $150,000 do not have to pay tax on their first $10,200 of 2020 unemployment compensation. Unfortunately, many people who qualify for this exclusion filed their 2020 federal tax returns before the new law took effect in mid-March.
If the filer overpaid as a result of paying tax on excluded unemployment benefits, the IRS will either issue a special refund or reduce the balance of tax owed.
The IRS has started with the simplest returns affected by ARPA rules for 2020 unemployment benefits. Most of these returns belong to single filers without dependents who did not claim any refundable tax credits. After correcting all these returns and issuing appropriate refunds, IRS personnel will move on to adjust more complicated returns, such as joint returns filed by married couples.
Refunds will be sent by direct deposit to those who provided banking information on their 2020 returns, and by paper checks otherwise. The refunds will be subject to offset rules, which allow the IRS to withhold refunds to cover past-due taxes, unpaid child support or other debts. Any taxpayer whose return is adjusted will also receive an IRS notice explaining the changes made.
IRS officials have projected that this process will continue throughout the summer. In the meantime, most taxpayers who may have paid tax on excluded unemployment benefits do not have to take further action. Calling the IRS or filing an amended return will not result in a faster refund, and could even delay processing due to the need to reconcile multiple returns.
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