In 2020, the IRS’ fraud filters flagged 5.2 million refunds for review — and that includes millions that were perfectly legitimate, according to the Taxpayer Advocate Service.
Although most were released after verifying the taxpayer’s identity or income and withholding, many filers whose returns were flagged experienced delays in receiving their refunds. For about 25% of the returns flagged for income verification, refunds took longer than 56 days, and for about 18% of those flagged for identity verification, refunds took longer than 120 days.
Last updated: Apr. 3, 2021
Hire a Professional
Consider hiring a tax pro to ensure your taxes are filed correctly.
“While most of the complications inherent in dealing with IRS can be avoided by taking the time to double- and triple-check your returns before filing, unless you just have one W-2 and no deductions to claim, your best bet may be to hire an expert,” said tax accountant Paul Miller of Miller & Company, LLP. “The investment usually pays off in a bigger return too.”
Find That Professional Before It’s Too Late
If you do decide to hire a tax professional, don’t wait until the last minute.
“Tax professional head into overdrive for the months leading up to the deadline,” Miller said. “Call your tax accountant early to make that important appointment, or at least drop your paperwork off early to put you in the queue of your favorite CPA. [This] results in faster filing and getting ahold of that important tax refund quicker.”
Use an Online Program To Ensure Accuracy
If you don’t opt to hire a tax professional, consider using an online program to cut down on the possibility of errors. When you are manually entering numbers on your tax form, it can be easy to put a number on the wrong line. This can lead to incorrect calculations and a delay in your refund.
“One way to mitigate inserting numbers on an incorrect line is to complete the tax form using an online program,” said Daniel R. Hill, CFP, president and CEO of Hill Wealth Strategies in Richmond, Virginia. “As I share with my clients, typically, these programs will alert you when a number seems inconsistent with other numbers already entered or with numbers you inserted last year. These programs will help you provide accurate information. Additionally, using an online program will keep you abreast of the most current tax law changes for the current year. This way, you can file an accurate tax return knowing the online program double-checked information and applied the current year’s tax updates.”
An accurate filing leads to a speedier return.
Important: Best and Worst States for Taxes — Ranked
Double-Check All Your Personal Identification Information
“Ensure all personal information, such as your name, address, email and Social Security number are correct,” Hill said.
Double-Check All Your Tax Credits
Incorrectly or inaccurately claiming the earned income tax credit or the additional child tax credit were two of the main reasons tax refunds were delayed in 2019.
“For many taxpayers, the challenge is getting credits right on your return,” said Megan Gorman, managing partner at Chequers Financial Management. “This can often slow down a refund if the information for earned income credits, the child tax credit or education credits are entered incorrectly.”
Double-check that the information you enter for any tax credit is accurate.
Double-Check That Your Wages Match What’s on Your W-2
Your employer sends a copy of your W-2 directly to the IRS, so if the wages you report don’t match what’s on the form, your refund could be delayed as the IRS waits to get an explanation. This is typically simply a data-entry error, so make sure you put in your wage information correctly.
Double-Check the Social Security Numbers for Everyone on Your Tax Forms
“If you have an error on a Social Security number of a dependent [it] can slow down processing,” Gorman said. “The Social Security error can be common. If the numbers get entered incorrectly, it will slow down your refund.”
Make Sure You Have Selected Only One Filing Status
Before filing, make sure that you have chosen the correct filing status on the tax return form.
“While it seems fairly simple, you need to commit to one filing status box, even though two or more boxes may be applicable,” Hill said. “An incorrect filing status can delay a refund or potentially require you to provide additional documentation of the indicated filing status box.”
Make Sure Only One Parent Is Claiming Your Child as a Dependent if Filing Separately
Only one parent can claim each child as a dependent, so coordinate with an ex beforehand to determine who will claim the child. If you both claim the child as a dependent and your ex files their claim first, your return will not be accepted by the IRS. This can cause delays in your refund.
Did You Know: This Is Where Your Tax Dollars Actually Go
Don’t Wait Needlessly To File Your Taxes
Taxes are due by May 17, but there’s no need to wait until then to file your taxes if you can file them earlier.
“The earlier you file, the more time you have to correct errors and the better chance you have of beating the scammers,” Miller said. “Check your math and all your entries to ensure everything is in the proper place and right order.”
File Your Taxes Electronically
“If the option is available, electronically file your income tax returns,” said Ana del Cerro-Fals, tax partner at BDO USA, LLP.
To get your refund even faster, opt to have the refund directly deposited into your bank account. According to the IRS, “filing electronically and choosing direct deposit remains the fastest and safest way to file an accurate income tax return and receive a refund.”
Make Sure Your Direct Deposit Information Is Correct
Filing electronically and getting your return via direct deposit is the fastest way to get your return — but if the direct deposit information you file is incorrect, this will cause unnecessary delays.
“Remember to include the correct direct deposit information on your tax return,” said Judith Corprew, executive vice president, chief compliance and risk officer at Patriot Bank, N.A. “If any of the numbers — either the routing number or the account number — are incorrect even by a single digit, it could result in a delay.”
If You File by Paper, Make Sure You Do It Correctly
Some taxpayers will need to file paper returns because they need to include attachments. If this is the case for you, Miller said to follow these steps:
- Sign and date the forms
- Use the right tax tables to calculate your tax
- Fill in all required information
- Attach all the necessary schedules and forms
- Mail your return to the correct address
Learn: How To Report Tax Fraud
Don’t Miss the May 17 Deadline
“A late tax return could also result in delays,” Corprew said.
If you haven’t gotten started on your return, there’s no better time than now.
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