The list of states warning taxpayers that they'll have to wait longer for their tax refunds is growing. But don't blame the state tax collectors.
Anger should be directed at the increasing number of criminals who are stealing individuals' personal data and then using it to file fraudulent tax returns, at federal and state levels.
Illinois, Louisiana and Utah revenue departments were the first to announce that new security protocols would mean more time to verify and process state returns.
Now we've gotten similar messages from Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Carolina tax officials.
South Carolina: Let's start down south since the Palmetto State has set a firm date for when its filers can expect to see their refunds: after March 1.
For returns filed prior to March 1, the South Carolina Department of Revenue (SCDOR) says that it expects to issue refunds within two to three weeks of that date.
If you file after the 1st of March, your refund should be issued within two to three weeks of the date your return is received.
North Dakota: In the Peace Garden State, Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger is encouraging North Dakota taxpayers to file their returns "as early as possible to help prevent fraud." Basically, you want to beat tax identity thieves to the punch by getting your return in before the crooks file for a fake refund in your name.
But when it comes to getting those legitimate refunds out to taxpayers, Rauschenberger is asking "that taxpayers be patient."
"Our office has been gearing up for the upcoming tax season with a considerable focus on combating tax fraud," said Rauschenberger in announcing the opening of the state's filing season. In 2015, North Dakota Tax saw a "sizable increase" in attempted tax fraud, with more than 900 fake returns claiming $1.3 million in fraudulent refunds stopped.
The tax commission said the state is expecting similar criminal attempts this year, so it has instituted additional tax fraud preventative measures that will result in slower refund processing.
But the slightly longer processing time is actually a good thing, said Rauschenberger. "We are taking the time to prevent North Dakota tax dollars from getting into the hands of fraudsters."
Minnesota: The situation is similar in the Gopher State, where tax officials also aren't providing any firm delay dates.
But Minnesota Department of Revenue Commissioner Cynthia Bauerly does tell taxpayers that she and her department take "protecting your personal information and your tax refund very seriously. We work to combat identify theft-related tax fraud by taking the time necessary to review and verify the information on all tax returns to make sure the right refund goes to the right person."
Translation: Issuance of refunds is likely to be a bit slower than in previous years.
Montana: That same message is coming from Big Sky Country.
Because of the nationwide increase in identity theft and filing of fraudulent returns, the Montana Department of Revenue wants its filers to know that it is taking more time to review returns to make sure they are valid. This means that Montana taxpayers will be waiting longer for their refunds than in previous years.
"We want to make sure the returns we receive are really from you before we send you a refund, and this takes a little more time. We want to protect your money and we appreciate your patience if your refund takes a little longer to get to you,” said Mike Kadas, director of the Department of Revenue, in announcing the opening of the 2016 filing season.
And while not every state that collects income taxes has explicitly said it, chances are they all are going to take more time this year to process returns and send out refunds.
Basically, the message from tax officials in the 43 states that collect individual income taxes to their filers is simple: Ready. Set. File. Wait.
It's not a welcome one, but at least it should mean that you, and not a crook, will get your refund.
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