Larger tax refunds go undelivered 

The IRS owes 2,280 Bay Area taxpayers almost $700,000 in undelivered refund checks this year. On average, eligible taxpayers in San Francisco are entitled to refunds of $1,256, while in San Mateo County the average is $1,275.

"The reason why most undelivered refund checks go undelivered is because the taxpayer has moved and failed to update their address with the post office or the IRS or both," said Jesse Weller, the IRS spokesman for the Bay Area.

The average refund amount rose from $1,148 to $1,471 nationwide this year, an increase of more than 28 percent. Nearly 112,000 California taxpayers are eligible for checks amounting to $1,492, a higher refund than the national average.

The overall increase in refund amount is likely due to recent tax law changes, including the Recovery Act provisions passed in 2009, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the First-Time Homebuyer Credit, Weller said.

In most cases, taxpayers who are missing a refund can obtain their check just by updating their addresses using the "Where’s My Refund?" tool on IRS.gov.

"All you need to use the tool is your Social Security Number, the filing status or marital status, and the exact dollar amount of the refund," Weller said. "It’s best to have a copy of your tax return with you when you use the tool."

For those who are a little less computer savvy, address changes can also be made on the phone by calling (800) 829-1954.

Weller said the best way to avoid the risk of undelivered or lost checks is to file tax returns electronically and select direct deposit for refunds.

"E-file is the best way to go because you can get your refund as fast as the IRS can get it to you, which is usually within two weeks, whereas paper return takes four to six weeks," Weller said. "We want to get the money out as quickly as possible so people can use it for the holidays or whatever other needs they have."

Refunds do not expire, so even if taxpayers do not choose to act now, they can still receive their checks. Weller said that once the IRS gets a correct address, which usually happens once a new tax return is filed, the refunds will be reissued.

shaughey@sfexaminer.com

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