Where’s my refund?

Like most folks, I dutifully filed a Federal tax return for 2016 and did so electronically as so many of us do today.  It’s convenient, relatively quick, saves a few cents in postage and, above all, hastens receipt of a refund.  Well, most of the time…

When I submitted the return I was advised to allow three weeks to receive my refund if filed electronically, six weeks for a paper return.  Last year I also e-filed and received the refund via direct deposit in just 8 days which I (happily) thought was exceptionally quick.  Not so this year.

I patiently allowed the suggested three weeks to pass but still no refund.  Okay, I’ll give it another week.  The fourth week went by with no funds yet deposited.  I began to get nervous, aware of horror stories of people who had their tax refunds usurped by identity thieves.

The IRS provides a “Where’s my refund?” tool on their website which I’d been abusing on a daily basis but the response was always the same:

“Your refund is still being processed.  A refund date will be provided when it becomes available.”

I was only mildly comforted because at least it didn’t say something like “Your refund was issued on xx/xx/2017.”  However, by the end of week five, I was becoming quite disturbed at the delay particularly in view of the previous year’s quick turnaround.  I wanted a real live human person to tell me that yes, we have your return and it is being processed and we are very sorry for the delay and no, you are not being audited.  A phone call to the local IRS “Tax Assistance Center” seemed the only available option to assuage my concern.

My call was promptly answered by the not unexpected recorded voice.  After thanking me for the call I was informed that the IRS “does not provide live support on this line” and I should call xxx-xxx-xxxx to make an appointment or, to check the status of a refund, visit the “Where’s my refund?” tool provided on the IRS website.  Been there, done that.  I just needed an answer to a simple question, an appointment seemed rather excessive never mind the fact that the local office is 20 miles away.  Having no other option, I called the appointment line where another recorded voice provided two options.  I could press 1 to arrange an appointment or, for all other questions, press 2.  I chose the latter whereupon a different recorded voice proceeded to inform me that I could check the status of my refund by entering the required information using the telephone keypad or by visiting the “Where’s my refund?” tool on the website.  Again, there was no option to speak to a living human.  I hung up and re-dialed the appointment line and chose option 1.  Surely a human would be involved in scheduling an appointment.  Following a brief “thanks for calling” message my call was put on hold.  Just moments later another recording advised me that “due to temporary technical difficulties we are unable to answer your call at this time.  Please try again later”.   Click.

Feeling a tad frustrated, the veins in my temples beginning to throb, I decided to get a bit of fresh air and took a walk out to the mailbox.  Imagine my surprise to find amongst the junk circulars, catalogs and the electric bill a plain white business envelope from….the IRS!

Uh oh.

With some mild trepidation I deftly slit open the envelope to retrieve whatever fresh hell was contained therein:

“Dear TAXPAYER

We received a federal income tax return, Form 1040, for the tax year above with your name and social security number.  To protect you from identity theft, we need to verify your identity before we process the return, issue a refund, or apply the overpayment to next year’s estimated tax.  Unfortunately, we can’t verify your identity online or by phone.  You must visit a Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC).”

Okay, at least I knew the refund hadn’t fallen into criminal hands.  The next morning I called to make the appointment, hopeful that the technical difficulties had been resolved. Following a surprisingly brief hold, a live person (!) thanked me for calling and asked how he could help.  I told him about receiving the letter and he explained this is a new process in which random returns are selected for identity verification in an attempt to thwart identity theft.  I just happened to be one of the lucky ones.

The appointment turned out to be brief, about half as long as it took to drive to the TAC.  Ultimately, my identity duly confirmed, I was told my return would be processed and I could expect my refund within nine (that’s right, nine) weeks.  More than five weeks had already passed and I may have to wait nine more?  No choice, I could only hope that it “probably won’t take that long”.

Give the IRS some credit for instituting a process designed to safeguard legitimate tax returns but it’d be nice if they could give more timely notice to those selected for ID verification.  It would save a lot of unnecessary anxiety.  Most importantly, mine.

UPDATE:  Nine weeks turned out to be nine days. Yay!!

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