March 15, 2023

The Meaning of ‘We Apologize, But Your Return Processing Has Been Delayed Beyond The Normal Timeframe’ Message

Personal Taxes

Processing delays have spiked in the last few years for several reasons. The IRS has been understaffed for a while, making meeting the tax return processing deadlines difficult. The pandemic has also been a reason the IRS struggled to process all tax returns in time.

Hence, millions of taxpayers have seen the ‘we apologize, but your return processing has been delayed beyond the normal timeframe’ message in the last few years.

It seems that the IRS has overcome some of the issues that plagued it in the past in the 2023 tax season because most tax returns are processed within the specified timeframe. However, this doesn’t mean that all tax refunds are issued on time, even if they were filed on time. We’ll tell you what to do if you are unfortunate enough to have this message pop up on your account.

What is the Normal Return Processing Timeframe?

The official deadline for issuing refunds is three weeks from the moment an individual tax return enters the IMF system. However, the IRS website states that most refunds will be issued before the three-week deadline expires.

However, this is only true for tax returns that don’t require special handling, so submitting your tax return on paper, for example, increases your chances of facing a processing delay.

The IRS also indicates that in some cases, the normal return processing timeframe is much longer than three weeks.

Hence sometimes the ‘we apologize, but your return processing has been delayed beyond the normal timeframe’ simply means that your tax return requires special handling, which is why its review will take longer than usual.

How to Find the ‘We Apologize, But Your Return Processing Has Been Delayed Beyond the Normal Timeframe’ Message

The vast majority of taxpayers file their taxes electronically, which means they also have access to the tools that allow them to monitor their tax return status.

The WMR (Where’s My Refund?) tool and IRS2Go app are available to taxpayers with accounts on the IRS website.

The WMF/IRS2Go’s Refund Status Results section displays your tax return’s processing progress as well as messages like your tax return is being processed that indicate that the processing of your tax return is underway.

This section will show the ‘we apologize, but your return processing has been delayed beyond the normal timeframe’ if the IRS cannot approve a refund in 21 days.

The rest of this message doesn’t contain information that can be valuable to taxpayers as it’s only asking them to keep checking their tax return status.

However, the message contains the Tax Topic 152 reference that can give taxpayers more information about the reasons the processing of their tax returns could be delayed.

The Tax Topic 152

The reference to tax topic 152 in this message suggests that the tax return’s processing was temporarily delayed and that the IRS most likely won’t require any action on your part to resume it.

The IRS uses tax topics to provide taxpayers with additional information about their filing and processing procedures. These topics are divided into the following categories:

  • General Information (tax topics in 300s).
  • Collection (tax topics in 200s).
  • Types of Income (tax topics in 400s).
  • The IRS Procedures and IRS Help Available (tax topics 100s).
  • Itemized Deductions and Tax Computations (tax topics in 500s).
  • Tax Credits and IRS Notices (tax topics in 600s).

Tax topic 152 comes from the IRS Procedures category, which only lists the issues that could delay processing and offer general information about refund types. It doesn’t reveal the reason why the processing of a specific tax return was delayed.

The Reasons Why The IRS Needs More Time to Process a Tax Return 

The combination of the ‘we apologize, but your return processing has been delayed beyond the normal timeframe’ message and the tax topic 152 doesn’t indicate anything wrong with your tax return.

Taxpayers who file their tax returns on paper will likely see this message because the IRS often needs more than three weeks to process them.

In addition, claiming the EITC, or the Child Tax Credit on a tax return will likely slow down its processing.

The processing of tax returns that contain errors is often delayed, but you don’t have to do anything to amend a mistake you made unless you receive a notice from the IRS.

Identity validation is another common reason tax return processing is taking longer than usual. Taxpayers can use the WMR/IRS2Go or other methods to confirm their identities.

The Outcomes of Tax Return Processing Delays

The ‘we apologize, but your return processing has been delayed beyond the normal timeframe’ message doesn’t explicitly request any action from taxpayers. Instead, it only informs them that the processing of their tax return has been postponed for unspecified reasons.

The message and tax topic 152 will disappear from your account if the issue that caused the processing delay doesn’t require your attention.

You should check if the IRS has sent you the identity verification request as soon as you see this message to avoid making the delay longer than it has to be.

Optionally, you can use the Get Transcript tool to review your tax account transcript and check if it contains Code 570 or some other codes that suggest the IRS cannot complete the processing stage without the taxpayer’s assistance.

In that case, tax topic 151 will replace tax topic 152 in the Refund Status Results section of the WMR/IRS2Go apps.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Can a Tax Return Processing Delay Be?

Estimating how long the processing delay will be is difficult because the IRS doesn’t provide a specific reason the processing was put on hold. However, delays can take anywhere between a few days and a couple of months, depending on the issue that caused them.

Can I Shorten a Processing Delay By Calling the IRS?

If identity verification is why the IRS paused the processing of your tax return, then reaching out to an IRS agent might help resolve the matter. However, calling the IRS won’t do much to shorten a processing delay in most cases.

How Long Does The IRS Need To Approve a Tax Refund After a Processing Delay?

The IRS will approve your tax refund a few weeks after the ‘we apologize, but your return processing has been delayed beyond the normal timeframe’ disappears from your account.

Do Amended Returns Cause Processing Delays?

Yes, filing an amended tax return can cause a processing delay if the tax refund wasn’t already approved.

Final Thoughts

Waiting for a tax refund longer than you have to is stressful. However, seeing the ‘we apologize, but your return processing has been delayed beyond the normal timeframe’ isn’t a reason for concern.

The IRS needs additional time to process tax returns with child tax and EITC claims, but that doesn’t mean taxpayers who made these claims on their tax returns should worry about whether they’ll receive their tax refunds.

Most taxpayers can avoid seeing this message by opting to e-file their tax returns because the processing of tax returns filed on paper last longer than three weeks.


Logan Allec, CPA

Logan is a practicing CPA and founder of Choice Tax Relief and Money Done Right. After spending nearly a decade in the corporate world helping big businesses save money, he launched his blog with the goal of helping everyday Americans earn, save, and invest more money. Learn more about Logan.

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