Some taxpayers who filed their federal tax returns early this year will have to wait a week longer than initially projected to get their refunds.
The delay was caused by new safeguards installed in Internal Revenue Service computer systems to prevent refund fraud, IRS spokesman Michelle Eldridge says. The problem is limited to taxpayers whose returns were filed before Jan. 26. Taxpayers whose returns were accepted on or after that date will not be affected, Eldridge says.
For many early filers, even a one-week hold-up could present a serious hardship, says Andy Stadler, an enrolled agent in Terre Haute, Ind. He received a call on Friday from a client who was counting on her refund to pay her electric bill, and feared her power would be cut off before she got the money.
“The people that come in early tend to be people who really need their tax refunds desperately,” he says. “Even a week is a huge deal.”
The delay has also created headaches for tax preparers because they've been forced to explain to clients that their refunds may be delayed.
Intuit's TurboTax is notifying its customers of the potential delays through email and has posted a notice on its page, says spokeswoman Julie Miller. H&R Block has also posted notices about the delay, noting that it affected all types of returns, regardless of how they were filed or who prepared them.
Even with the delay, taxpayers will still receive their refunds “in line with historic refund delivery times,” Eldridge says. Taxpayers who e-file their tax returns and arrange for direct deposit typically receive their refunds within 10 to 21 days.
The IRS provides a “Where's My Refund” tool that provides an update on the status of taxpayers' refunds, but the IRS notes that the dates are estimates and subject to revision. For that reason, taxpayers shouldn't automatically assume they'll receive their refunds on the projected date, says Judy Strauss, an enrolled agent in Cobleskill, N.Y.
“This week some people were expecting the money to come through and the IRS had a computer problem,” she says. “It can happen.”
This story first appeared in USA Today.