A federal government shutdown can occur when the U.S. Congress doesn't pass spending legislation to continue funding government agencies and operations after the previous legislation expires. However, the term "government shutdown" is somewhat misleading since many federal agencies, including the IRS, remain in operation. And yes, you still have to pay your taxes.

But the IRS doesn't stay open for business as usual during a shutdown, which would affect how your tax return is handled. If a shutdown happens during peak tax season (for example, sometime between when the IRS opens and tax day), the impact could be much greater. Which begs the question, "What does a government shutdown mean for your taxes?"


  • Refunds would still be issued

The most significant aspect of a government shutdown during tax season for most taxpayers is that tax refunds would still be paid out. And while this is definitely good news for those counting on their refund money right away, there are also financial options so that taxpayers can get advances on their refunds quickly.


  • Almost half of all IRS employees would still work

About 43.5% of all IRS employees would still report to work. This equates to approximately 35,000 "exempt" workers who would carry out the ongoing duties of the IRS. These employees are exempt from furlough because of a federal law which requires agencies to continue to “protect human life and property” in case of a shutdown. And the government has legally established that tax revenues are considered federal property, which the IRS must protect during a shutdown.


  • Paper tax returns with payments would still be processed

To comply with the requirement mentioned above to “protect government property” (tax revenues), the IRS is required to stay open and process all paper tax returns that include tax payments.


  • E-file returns would still be processed

Electronic tax returns that are processed automatically by computer without intervention from an IRS service center would be processed up to the point of paying the refund.


  • Many “non-exempt” activities would be put on hold

Normal, non-critical duties of the IRS would be discontinued during a shutdown because of the lack of adequate workers available. These activities that would be put on hold include:


If a government shutdown does happen during tax season, IRS employees will still be working and waiting to receive your tax payments. Because no matter what, you can't shut down taxes.


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