MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Every year, the IRS receives 240 million tax returns. The Minnesota Department of Revenue processes 2.7 million returns.

On Friday, WCCO viewer Brian from Shakopee was surprised when both the state and federal governments approved his filing within hours. He has a Good Question for us: Does an actual person actually read over tax forms, or does a computer program scan it for errors?

According to Terri Steenblock, the assistant commissioner of individual taxes with the Minnesota Department Revenue, the answer can be both.

“We program our computers to review all the returns,” Steenblock said. “Some of them are people looking at it as well.”

Nearly 85 percent of Minnesotans file their state returns electronically. For those who don’t, those returns must be sorted, opened and scanned.

In the weeks before April 15, that can take up to 100 people to process, which is partly why Steenblock strongly encourages people to file online.

“There’s a great likelihood there isn’t information missing from their returns because the software company doesn’t allow you to submit the return,” she said.

About 80 percent of the state returns aren’t seen by a person. The computer programs are designed to pick up mistakes that would then require human intervention.

“There’s all kinds of stuff that we we can look at, and we don’t disclose any of the information that we can look at,” she said. “We want to make sure we’re processing quality returns and receiving quality returns.”

Local tax expert Mark Sellner says the IRS and Department of Revenue don’t want to share their programs because they don’t want everyone to know how to work around them.

But, he says their computer programs can match information from employers, banks and stock brokers against what individuals report.

Steenblock says some flags that would require a human touch include blank field, or the inability to read a person’s handwriting. She also says humans also provide checks on their computers.

“Even if they make it through, we spot check them as well, so a person will touch some of those as well just to make sure that our programming is accurate,” she said.

Heather Brown

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