Tax Refund Issues

July 30, 2015 : Jim Buttonow

Editor’s Note: We know how important it is to get a tax refund. While waiting for your refund to arrive can be frustrating, getting a refund that’s less than expected – or none at all – can be upsetting. Here are a few reasons why tax refund issues occur, and what to do if it does happen to you.

Each year, about 80% of the almost 150 million total tax filers get a refund. Millions of these taxpayers are surprised when their refund is less than expected, delayed or never comes at all. Here are some of the most common reasons why the IRS changes, holds, or takes taxpayers’ refunds:

  1. The IRS put your refund toward a balance you owe. Currently, more than 17 million taxpayers owe the IRS. Confiscating refunds is the best way for the IRS to collect this money. The IRS will take your refunds going forward until the amount is paid. In general, the IRS can take refunds for 10 years after you originally owed the tax.
  2. The IRS put your refund toward a spouse’s tax bill. If you file jointly with a spouse who owes taxes (or other debt the IRS is required to collect, such as child support or student loan debt), the IRS will use your joint refund to pay the amount owed. If you don’t want your portion of the refund to pay your spouse’s debt, file an injured spouse relief form (Form 8379) with the IRS. (“Injured” spouse does not mean physically injured.) The IRS will send back your share of the refund about three months after you file the form. To avoid surprises like this, it’s beneficial to get to know your spouse’s (or future spouse’s) financial situation.
  3. There could be an error on your return. The IRS often holds refunds when there are credits on the tax return that increase a taxpayer’s refund. Common examples are the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Child Tax Credit. The IRS may also hold your refund if you’re under audit and will owe taxes. If the IRS holds your refund, you’ll receive notices from the IRS requesting more information. Make sure you respond by the deadline, or the IRS will assume that the refund amount on your filed return was wrong.
  4. The IRS suspects identity theft. IRS identity theft filters stop returns that might have been fraudulently filed. If this happens to your return, you may receive a notice from the IRS to confirm your identity. Respond to the notice confirming your identity, and the IRS will release the refund.
  5. The IRS changed your refund because of a dependent discrepancy. In this scenario, you either provided the wrong dependent information, or, more likely, someone else is using the dependent on his or her return (perhaps an ex-spouse). The IRS will contact you and the other taxpayer to ask questions about who is eligible to claim the dependent. The IRS will also ask for supporting documentation, such as proof that the dependent lived with a certain taxpayer during the year.
  6. The IRS rejected your return, and you haven’t refiled. This happens all too often for taxpayers who file their own returns. In this case, the answer is simple: Make the corrections and refile.

If you don’t receive your expected refund in three weeks, you should investigate why. Call your tax professional, who can get to the bottom of it. If you have not done so already, you’ll need to give your tax professional the authority to talk on your behalf with the IRS. And don’t worry; H&R Block tax professionals have experience working with the IRS on issues like this. Learn about H&R Block Tax Audit & Notice Services.

One more tip: If your refund went toward a balance you owed, check into it. If the balance was the result of a one-year, isolated incident, ask for that year’s penalties to be removed because of your good compliance history. The average savings to taxpayers who ask for this waiver (called first-time abatement) is more than $250. Learn more about how to address IRS penalties.

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Jim Buttonow

Jim Buttonow

The Tax Institute, H&R Block

Jim, CPA, CITP, leads H&R Block efforts to help clients with tax problems. Jim serves as chairperson of the IRS Electronic Tax Administration Advisory Committee. He has more than 28 years of experience in IRS practice and procedure, including 19 years at the IRS.