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Many people like to file their taxes as early as possible for one very big reason: to get their tax refund. Whether you use it to pay down holiday bills, take a winter getaway, or just bulk up your savings, it’s an annual boon to a lot of Americans.
But your return could be flagged and your refund delayed for a variety of reasons—from forgetting to include crucial information on your return to being the victim of identity fraud.
Here are four things that could explain why that direct deposit or check from the IRS could be late, and what you can do to avoid it.
- You used the wrong filing status. “This happens often with couples going through a divorce,” says Kelly Phillips Erb, a tax attorney at the Erb Law Firm in Paoli, Pa. If one partner files as “married filing separately” and the other files “married filing jointly” or “single,” both returns will be flagged and the returns delayed. So even if you’re not on good terms, come to a consensus on how you’re filing so you can both close out your tax years as quickly as possible.
- You forgot your kids’ Social Security numbers. If you’re claiming a Child Tax Credit, you must include your children’s Social Security numbers on your tax return, says Erb. You probably don’t have their numbers memorized like you do your own, which is why a lot of people either write in the wrong number, forget to fill in the number, or just guess (which Erb has seen people do). So make sure you include all Social Security numbers asked for, and double check that they’re correct. If your kids’ numbers don’t match what the IRS has on file, your refund will be delayed.
- You’re the victim of identity theft and refund fraud. Each year, the IRS pays out billions in fraudulent refunds due to identity theft, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. That’s when scammers steal someone’s name and Social Security number, then file a return and take a refund. If they run this scam on you before you file your tax return, your return will be flagged and your refund delayed. If you receive a letter from the IRS and suspect your identity has been stolen, call the number on the notice. If you don’t receive a notice, but suspect you might be the victim of identity theft, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490. You’ll likely have to fill out an affidavit before they can process your return and refund.
You can protect yourself against identity fraud throughout the year by regularly monitoring your credit report and accounts. Shredding documents that contain personal information before throwing them away is helpful too, but since so many of us do our banking online, it’s crucial to lock down your devices. That means never using public Wi-Fi to access your accounts, enabling password protection on your smartphone, and always turning off Bluetooth when you’re not using it (thieves can pair their device with your phone or tablet to hack your information).
- You claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit. This is a flashpoint for fraud, says Erb, and a lot of people take this credit even though it’s not due to them. That’s why the IRS will sometimes give returns that claim the credit a second look over, which can delay your refund—even if you are eligible to take it.
To be eligible for this credit, you meet certain criteria. You can find out if you qualify using the Earned Income Tax Credit Assistant, an online tool that asks a series questions that can determine your eligibility, at irs.gov.
Athene Annuity and Life Company does not provide tax or legal advice. Please contact a qualified tax professional for such advice.
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