By Ken Berry
Early bird tax filers are finding it's taking longer than usual to receive their federal income tax refunds this year. In the past, taxpayers who filed electronically could expect to get their cash within one to two weeks. For 2011 returns filed during the first full week of February, it's taking from fifteen to twenty-one days, or even longer in some cases, to receive a refund.
The IRS is attributing the delays to technical computer issues relating to new safeguards designed to screen out fraudulent refunds. It doesn't matter which tax software or filing method is being used by the tax preparer.
Nevertheless, the IRS is stoutly defending its position. It also insists that the computer glitches have been resolved. "The vast majority of taxpayers can still continue to expect to receive their refunds in a timely fashion", says IRS spokesperson Michelle Eldridge.
Taxpayers can check the status of their refunds by visiting the IRS website "Where's My Refund?" page. When this tool is working properly, the status will change as a return works its way through the system. But when taxpayers who filed early in February tried to track the progress, they were informed that the IRS had no knowledge of their return. Naturally, this caused fear and anxiety among some filers, who worried that their tax returns were lost in cyberspace, despite an acknowledgment received by the tax return preparer that the return had been accepted.
The IRS says "not to worry." It's assuring tax filers that the acknowledgement is the only proof they need that their return has been filed, even if "Where's My Refund?" indicates otherwise. So you can tell your clients to rest easy. Unfortunately, however, there's no way to speed up the process for those who were counting on a super-quick refund by filing early. Other taxpayers who filed later might still obtain their returns first.
As of February 16, the IRS said it had issued 34.8 million refunds totaling $110.9 billion. During the same period in 2011, the IRS issued 36.1 million refunds for a total of $115.3 billion. At this writing, the average refund is approximately $3,183.
Bottom line: For many taxpayers, it's certainly worth the wait.