The slings and arrows
of outrageous taxes
Escaping the phishing net

Where's my refund?

Wheres_my_refund_2 Through mid-March, the IRS has sent out more than 56 million refunds.

The average refund amount is $2,379.

Both the number of refunds and the average check amount are slightly higher than last year.

Electronic filing continues to be popular, especially when done from the comfort of the taxpayer's home. The number of those e-filed returns is more than 13 million, an almost 17% increase from last filing season.

Also, more people than ever are opting for refund direct deposit. So far this year, the IRS has sent almost 40 million refunds, or 70% of this season's refunds to date, to financial institutions instead of personal mailboxes.

If you're still waiting for your refund check, you can check track it down at the IRS's Where's My Refund? page. To get the search started, you'll need your Social Security number, filing status entered on your return and the exact amount you're expecting as shown on the return you filed. Find out more about refund tracking in this story I wrote for Bankrate.

One quick tip: If you're one of those who's having your refund sent directly to your bank, check your account periodically. The refund amount will just show up there without any advance word from the IRS.

More and less: More people are visiting the IRS Web site this year (up 6.5% over last year's numbers). That's good for the agency.

Not so good is that fewer folks are clicking through to the Free File Alliance page. According to a blurb in the Akron, Ohio, Beacon Journal, free-filed tax returns have dropped 20% compared with this time last year. (Thanks to About: Tax Planning for pointing out the story.)

The decreased participation is not that surprising. Last year, any taxpayer could find at least one free filing option. This year, if you make more than $50,000 you can't free file at the IRS site.

I noted in this story I wrote back in January when this year's program was unveiled: "The decision to restrict access seems counterintuitive, especially since the IRS is working on meeting a congressional directive that it must collect 80% of tax returns electronically by 2007."

The IRS is putting on a brave face. The agency's director of electronic tax administration blames the program's lack of use so far on budget cuts that have led to less publicity about it.

Glad he's a glass half-full kind of guy, but I suspect that with less than a month left in the filing season, Free File 2006 is going to free fall well short of the mark the IRS and participating tax software companies had set.

Doo-wop with your 'do: Want to take your tax refund and use it to totally remake your look as well as catch up on the hottest new tunes? Then Austin might have just the salon for you.

Austin proclaims itself the Live Music Capital of the World. The largest-ever South by Southwest music festival that wrapped up this past weekend lends credence to that claim.

In keeping with the city's beat, Birds Barbershop will treat clients to live music when it opens for business in June.

"This isn't a schtick; we're just trying to have a cool, Austin, indie vibe," co-owner Michael Portman told the Austin American-Statesman (registration required). The shop will have a stage where DJs and singers can play sets and Portman sees it as "really an opportunity to put our hands around Austin's rock 'n' roll culture."

The shop will serve both men and women and Portman is looking for stylists and barbers who will "put their unique personality in the cuts." If you're interested, send a résumé and your "top-five list of favorite musical artists or moments of musical bliss" to michael@birdsbarbershop.com.

I appreciate Portman's enthusiasm for the Austin musical scene, but I think I've got to agree with the hubby on this plan: "I'm not sure I want someone grooving around my head with scissors."

Yeah, one unexpected crescendo, and the customer could be singing a not-so-happy tune.

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