Tax filing season is underway, but people who file early and claim certain tax credits might wait longer for their refunds this year. This is thanks to new IRS efforts to crack down on fraud.
The change could affect millions of households, especially those with children. If yours is among them, here are a few tips from tax pros.
Understand the reason for the delay
The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 requires the IRS to hold tax refunds for taxpayers who claim the earned income tax credit or the additional child tax credit until Feb. 15 this year.
Criminals love to take those credits on fake tax returns, so the idea is to give the IRS more time to detect fraud, says Jeff Chism, a CPA with Brown, Kinion & Co. in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.
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Both appeal to fraudsters because they not only reduce federal tax owed, but could generate a refund. The EITC was worth as much as $6,269 in 2016, and the ACTC is a function of the $1,000-per-kid child tax credit.
“It's a quick refund, and it adds up to be a lot of money when you file a lot of fraudulent returns,” Richmond, Virginia-based CPA David Creasy adds. “They don't just file one or two. They file in the hundreds or even in the thousands of returns.”
Take the credits even if you’re in a hurry
The IRS will begin releasing affected refunds by Feb. 15, but processing time, the weekend and Presidents Day mean the money may not hit some bank accounts or debit cards until the week of Feb. 27, it says. That could strain budgets for households with incomes low enough to qualify for the tax credits. But Chris Whalen, a CPA in Red Bank, New Jersey, says taxpayers who qualify shouldn’t forfeit the credits just so they can get a refund more quickly.
“It's very important that everyone get every dollar that they are able to get,” he says. “It's definitely worthwhile to still file for this.”
Don’t use the delay as an excuse to procrastinate
Filing as soon as possible still gets the taxpayer in the IRS pipeline, Whalen says.
“You want to be the first one in line to get disbursements, because sometimes they do stagger disbursements, even direct deposits or refunds,” he says. Taxpayers can track their refunds at IRS.gov/refunds.
Think twice about refund anticipation loans
The delay might have you feeling strapped, but Creasy advises resisting the lure of refund anticipation loans.
“The fees typically charged are quite significant,” he says.
Refund anticipation loans are much less prevalent now than at their height in 2002, when about 12.7 million consumers used them, according to the Consumer Federation of America.
But this year, some tax providers are offering a different product called no-fee refund advances.
Proceed with caution on those, too, Consumer Federation of America warns: Tax preparers may pad them with "add-on" fees.
Look on the bright side
The delay could help everyone by getting some of the crooks out of the system, Chism says. But unfortunately, there’s no magic way to convince the IRS to release your refund earlier.
“This is a date set by law. Even if you bat your eyes big and double-pinkie swear and cross your heart, it's still not going to help anything,” he says.
Tina Orem is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected].