Filing one’s tax return electronically is supposed to be The Way to Go. We personally use a popular online service, which costs a few bucks, but it’s quick, easy and we’ve never before had a problem. Fill in the blanks, answer some questions, agree to a couple of disclaimers, and click send. The IRS assures that (nearly) every refund filed electronically will be deposited into your checking account of choice in less than 21 days. We filed January 27.
As any Gregorian calendar (or kindergarten kid) will tell you, 21 days from 1/27 is February 17. We’ve never had an issue in the past, so I trusted the system and waited until 2/15 to check the IRS Where’s My Refund tool. As every year before, I expected to see the status bar that many of us are familiar with:
What I got was this instead:
It was odd, but I figured maybe there was a system glitch or the status bar just went missing. Because, you know, Government.
Tax Topic 152 noted in the screenshot above says to wait three weeks before calling the IRS for more info. I waited until 2/18 to call. After going through the painfully long, excruciatingly slow “choose your own adventure” that is the IRS phone system, I finally reached a representative. After I answered half a dozen or so identification questions, she left me to look into my account.
The representative came back after about 3 minutes and asked how I’d filed. As I’d done in my introduction with her, I told the rep that I’d filed electronically with a commercial online service. She told me that the system had coded my return incorrectly: instead of marking my return as filed electronically, the system had somehow coded it as a paper filing. As a result, she said, it would be like I’d mailed the return and would have to wait six weeks. Because, government.
While I was frustrated to say the least, I acquiesced. I mean, what choice did I have? This is the IRS; it’s not like I would get anywhere fighting them. They have you over a barrel. So, I waited.
At five weeks (March 2) I called again, and again chose my own adventure. I went through 8 layers of choices, until I got to one that instructed me to Chicken Dance while I was waiting for the next available representative (And we can tell, so you better be doing it).
When the agent came on the line, she went through the same string of verification questions as February Representative, and then put me on hold to check with the department working on my return. Wait? There’s a specific department working on it? What does that mean? When she came back on the line, she reminded me that the answer was the same as it was when I’d called in February.
I asked her if there was a problem, if I had missed something or if there was anything I could do to help. She told me that, if there was had been an issue I would have gotten a letter by now. She assured me that the department working on my account was nearly finished, and I would have my refund by the 6-8 weeks I had been quoted in February. I didn’t argue with her, either. Again, what choice did I have.
Concerned, I started to do some research. Come to find out, I’m not the only one in this situation. I found other cases where people are experiencing the same concerns. That got me a little worried, so today, at 7 weeks, I called again.
After getting through the Tree of Phone Prompts, I was put on hold for what the system told me would be up to 15 minutes (I wasn’t hanging up for anything). About 12 minutes later, the representative came on, verified my info again, and then asked if I would mind waiting on hold for a moment. What choice did I have?
She came back after a couple of minutes with the answer I was looking for. However, it was not the answer I was expecting, and her response only made me more upset. Apparently, during some previous tax year, there was an attempt at identity theft on our account. Because of this, my tax return is being reviewed thoroughly, and that process alone takes the eight weeks to complete. Then, after that’s done, she said, I’ll have to wait an additional eight weeks for the refund to actually be processed. There was nothing she could do about it.
I asked why it was that I had to call to find this out. I mean, IDENTITY THEFT is kind of a big deal; you’d think a person might want to know that someone had tried to access their tax records. While she kindly agreed, she had no answer. I told her I believe (though this may just be me overreacting) that the IRS should notify customers when there is suspected ID theft on an account; at the very least, they should send a letter at some point during tax return processing (as radical as that sounds). She agreed, but said there was nothing she could do. I asked at what point a representative would have known this information. She said the first person I called back in February would have.
Of course she did.
While I appreciate that the IRS is researching my return to make sure everything is legit, I’m pissed that it took me calling them to find out. I’m pissed that representatives have known this information for months, yet during two exasperating phone calls, no one ever told me. I’m pissed that I have to wait more than five times the original expected wait to get a return that’s owed to me (I filed electronically; after the research is done, process my return in the 21 days it would have originally taken).
Mostly, though, I’m pissed because, if I waited 16 weeks past the April 15 deadline to pay a tax bill, the IRS would bring all manner of pyroclastic flow down upon my head. Yet, I have no recourse when they keep my money from me without explanation.