By Johnny Jackson
The Internal Revenue Service is reporting that some 4,700 Georgia taxpayers are due refund checks, and that 261 of the checks belong to residents in Henry and Clayton counties.
Those 4,700 refund checks, worth more than $7 million, were returned to the IRS by the U.S. Postal Service, due to mailing address errors, according to IRS Spokesman Mark Green.
Nationally, this year, 111,893 undelivered refund checks -- totaling $164.6 million and averaging $1,471 -- were returned to the IRS, said Green. Last year's undelivered checks averaged $1,148, nationally.
"In Georgia, the average undeliverable refund is $1,522," Green said. "Last year, the average was $1,233."
The IRS spokesman said the average dollar amount for returned refunds rose by almost 22 percent this year, possibly due to recent changes in tax law, which introduced new credits or expanded existing credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit.
He noted that a total of 180 Clayton County taxpayers are owed $321,392 in refunds, averaging $1,786 per refund. He said there are 81 Henry County taxpayers due $136,806 in refunds, averaging $1,689 per refund.
Often, refund checks go astray because of a life-change, such as a marriage or divorce, which causes an address change, explained Green. For taxpayers, who move and do not notify the IRS, or the U.S. Postal Service, their checks are sent to their last known address and subsequently returned to the IRS.
Green suggests that taxpayers file electronically. He said the outstanding refund checks in the recent round of deliveries is a preeminent reason why taxpayers should file electronically -- to avoid undelivered refund checks. He noted that e-filing also tends to reduce errors on tax returns, and speeds up refunds.
"It just makes a lot more sense," added Larry Stoner, owner of Century Small Business Solutions in Stockbridge. Stoner, an enrolled agent and accountant, said 100 percent of his clients' initial returns have been filed electronically for roughly the past eight years.
"You certainly don't have to worry about going down to the post office to mail off your return [with e-filing]," he said. "Secondly, as far as the verification process is concerned, we validate the banking information prior to it being forwarded to the IRS."
Stoner added that those who e-file and have refund checks direct deposited generally receive their refunds more quickly than those who file returns by mail. There is about a 12-day turn-around time for e-filers, compared to mailers, who can anticipate 4-6 weeks for their checks to be mailed.
"While only a small percentage of checks mailed out by the IRS are returned as undelivered, taxpayers can put an end to lost, stolen or undelivered checks by choosing direct deposit when they file, either paper or electronic returns," Green added. "Taxpayers can receive refunds directly into their bank, split a tax refund into two or three financial accounts, or even buy a savings bond."
If a refund check is returned to the IRS as undelivered, taxpayers can generally update their addresses with the "Where's My Refund?" tool at the IRS web site, www.IRS.gov. The tool enables taxpayers to check the status of their refund and, in some cases, provides instructions on how to resolve delivery problems.
"We'd like to get this money back to taxpayers as quickly as possible," Green continued. "All we need is an updated address, and we can reissue the check."
A taxpayer only needs to update his or her address once for the IRS to send out all checks due, he said. Taxpayers checking on a refund over the phone will receive instructions on how to update their addresses.
Taxpayers can access a telephone version of "Where's My Refund?" by calling 1(800) 829-1954.
Green said the IRS does not contact taxpayers by e-mail to alert them of pending refunds. Such messages, he said, are common identity-theft scams.
He reiterated that taxpayers should not release any personal information, reply, open any attachments, or click on any links to questionable, unsolicited e-mails or web sites. That will help avoid malicious codes that can infect their computers, he said.