Keep tabs on your refund (and reasons you might not get it)

If you filed tax returns in April, there’s a good chance that you’ve already checked the mail or your bank account to see if that refund has arrived. According to the IRS, most refunds are issued in less than three weeks, although it can take longer — and in rare cases, that refund might not come at all.

Your refund status

If you’re curious about the status of your refund, the IRS’ “Where’s My Refund?” tool is a handy one. You’ll need your Social Security number, your filing status (single, married joint filer, etc.), and your exact refund amount.

In some cases, taxpayers who expect a refund might get a notification that all or part of that refund won’t be paid for a variety of reasons.

Refunds settle debts

The Treasury Offset Program can use all or part of a refund to apply toward certain debts, including:

  • past-due federal tax debts
  • state income tax obligations
  • past-due child and/or spousal support
  • federal agency debts, such as a delinquent student loan
  • certain unemployment compensation owed to a state

If the IRS chooses to offset a refund to pay debts, a letter is sent to the taxpayer that lists the original refund, the offset amount, and the agency that received the payment. To dispute the offset, a taxpayer can contact the relevant federal agency.

Spousal relief

If you file a joint tax return, and your tax refund is applied to your spouse’s debts (such as past-due child support debt from a prior relationship), you might qualify to retrieve your share of the joint refund. This is done by filing Form 8379 (“Injured Spouse Allocation”).

No passports in significant cases

Beyond having a refund taken by the government, owing significant federal back taxes can cause a taxpayer to have passport problems. Last year, the IRS began enforcing a tax law provision that gives the IRS the authority to notify the State Department about individuals who have “seriously delinquent tax debts.” The State Department is then tasked with denying the individuals new passports or revoking existing passports.

For these purposes, seriously delinquent tax debt is defined as an inflation-adjusted $50,000 or more. For 2019, the threshold is $52,000.

Refund questions?

In most cases, refunds are routinely sent to taxpayers within a few weeks. However, there may be some delays, or, in worst-case scenarios, refunds may be applied to debts owed to the federal or state governments. If you have questions about your refund that are unable to be resolved as described above, contact a tax advisor at KraftCPAs.

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