Updated Feb. 14, 2019
Mid-February is finally here, the time when the Internal Revenue Service can finally issue refunds to taxpayers who had claimed the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) and/or the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).
Neither is your refund likely to be directly deposited into your bank account, loaded onto a debit card or as a paper check stuffed in your snail mail box next week.
In fact, the IRS is warning affected ACTC and EITC filers that they probably won't have their tax cash before Feb. 27. And that's in the best-case scenario; that is, when the refund is directly deposited and there are no other issues with the filing.
Reasons for delays: It's no secret why refunds due taxpayers who claim the two refundable, meaning you get money back even if you don't owe any tax for it to offset, credits are slow.
Congress, concerned that ineligible folks were getting EITC and ACTC cash, mandated the mid-February hold starting last filing season. That gave the IRS extra time to make sure the claims were legit.
Other returns are delayed because of the inevitable errors many filers make.
Then there are the increased number of filters and checks that the IRS puts all returns through to ensure that they are being filed by lawful taxpayers and not identity stealing criminals. It's working.
Since 2015, the number of tax-related identity theft victims has fallen by almost two-thirds, according to an IRS announcement earlier this month.
In 2017, the IRS received 242,000 reports from taxpayers compared to 401,000 in 2016, a 40 percent decline. That marked the second year in a row this number fell, thanks in large part, to the IRS' work with its Security Summit partners in the tax industry and state tax departments.
No firm delivery dates: Still, for taxpayers anxiously awaiting tax refunds, the delays can be frustrating.
The IRS used to issue an annual chart, officially known as IRS Publication 2043, of when you could expect your tax refund. Too many folks, however, started taking those delivery dates as strict promises.
So in 2012, the last year of the printed refund timetable, the IRS decided to focus instead online refund tracking. That year, filers started getting more personalized refund status info via the IRS' Where's My Refund? search tool.
Now millions of taxpayers each year use Where's My Refund? to find out, well, where exactly in the IRS processing system their refund is. Once a return is processed, the tracking tool lets the inquiring taxpayer know an expected delivery date for his or her refund money.
The refund data is updated once a day, usually overnight, so checking it more often won't get you any additional info or spur a quicker arrival of your refund.
You can check out Where's My Refund from your PC or laptop, as well as your digital devices with the IRS2Go app. Or you can use your cell phone to call 1 (800) 829-1954 for refund information.
Recreating refund tables: Some folks have recreated the old refund cycle chart to project when refunds filed on a certain date might be available.
These unofficial tables generally use the IRS' oft-repeated statement that it issues nine out of 10 refunds in less than 21 days to project when refunds filed on a certain date might be available.
I get it. I'm a big fan of tables and charts myself. And I know folks like some certainty, particularly when it involves their money.
But I'm going to have to go with the IRS and its decision to no longer provide even quasi-specific refund delivery dates. Taxes, like life, can get complicated and mess up plans.
That's also why I'm reiterating the caution that the IRS makes in its current, revised Publication 2043, now known as Refund Information Guidelines for the Tax Preparation Community. It says there:
Urge taxpayers not to count on getting the refund by a certain date to make major purchases or pay bills. Even though the IRS issues most refunds in less than 21 days, it's possible their tax return may require additional review and take longer.
You also might find these items of interest:
- The pros and cons of tax refunds
- When real life meets tax refund loans
- Government shutdown could revive tax refund advanced products