Some families can't bank on a tax refund before Feb. 27
Here's a new financial detour: Families on tight budgets need to hold the line when it comes to spending on after-holiday sales, if they typically plan to pay the extra bills with an early tax refund.
Don't bank on that strategy in 2017.
Taxpayers who receive the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit will face longer delays in 2017 and will not be able to access their refunds until the week of Feb. 27 at the earliest.
Initially, we heard reports about a switch that would delay those refunds until Feb. 15 but another 12 days has been added to that process, based on the latest reports.
Taxpayers who do not claim either of those credits would not be impacted by these delays.
As part of a strategy to tackle fraud, the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 — known as the PATH Act — put into place some extra hurdles when it comes to refunds associated with the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Additional Child Tax Credit to make it tougher for crooks to file fake returns using those credits to get a generous tax refund.
The new federal law says that tax refunds with these credits cannot be available before Feb. 15. No exceptions. But the delay will realistically stretch out to Feb. 27, according to tax experts.
The refunds will be released by IRS on Feb. 15. However, there is processing time involved in verifying account information with financial institutions, according to Marshall Hunt, certified public accountant and director of tax policy for the Accounting Aid Society's tax assistance program in metro Detroit.
On top of that, President's Day is on Feb 20 — a federal holiday — and the holiday plus weekends would mean that the earliest refunds for those with these credits would not hit bank accounts until the week of Feb. 27, Hunt said. He noted that the timing will be about the same if someone opts to have a check mailed.
For many lower-income people, we're talking about waiting longer for thousands of dollars.
The maximum amount of the Earned Income Tax Credit is $6,269 for those with three or more qualifying children. The top amounts drop to $3,373 for those with one qualifying child and up to $506 for those with no qualifying children in 2016.
The Earned Income Tax Credit is for people who are working but have limited incomes. To be eligible, one's total income for 2016 must not exceed $47,955 if single with three or more qualifying children or $53,505 if married filing jointly.
The income limit is $39,296 if single with one qualifying child or $44,846 if married filing jointly with one child.
The income limit is $14,880 if single — or $20,430 if married filing jointly — with no qualifying children.
The Additional Child Tax Credit may bring a tax refund even if a tax filer doesn't owe any tax. However, if you are able to claim the full amount of the Child Tax Credit, a maximum of $1,000 for each qualifying child in 2016, to offset income tax you will not be eligible for the Additional Child Tax Credit.
Cash-strapped consumers often file very early in the tax season to obtain sizable refund checks in early February to cover the rent or other bills.
Electronic filing of federal tax returns is expected to start Jan. 23.
It's important, of course, to not be tempted to fill the gap by falling for some offers for loan product — such as a loan on a tax refund that is based on a year-end pay stub.
Loan fees are costly and you could actually end up in the strange spot of being loaned more money than you receive for the tax refund. Why? Going on the last year's pay stub could lead to inaccurate information for calculating a tax refund. Regardless, the original loan must be repaid.
More W-2s to have a 16-digit code to fight tax fraud
See MichiganFreeTaxHelp.org for information about accessing free tax help.
If your income is below around $60,000 a year or so, you can do your own taxes for free on your own computer by going to www.MyFreeTaxes.com. H&R Block provides its software free of charge through MyFreeTaxes.com. That service begins in January.
Another early tip: If you used an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number in the past, make sure you find out whether that number expires as of Dec. 31. Processing delays are likely for filers with expired Individual Tax Identification Numbers. So you can renew your ITIN now if it expired and you plan to use it on a U.S. tax return. See www.irs.gov/ITIN.
An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number is used by someone who needs a taxpayer identification number but is not eligible for a Social Security number.
The IRS notes there are two reasons an ITIN would expire on Dec. 31. First, if you have not used your ITIN on a U.S. tax return at least once for tax years 2013, 2014 or 2015. Or second, if your ITIN has the two middle digits listed as 78 or 79.
Once you file a return, you can track the status of your federal tax refund online via www.irs.gov/refunds. You need a Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification number, the exact amount of the refund and the filing status of the refund to use the IRS "Where's My Refund?" tool.
John Koskinen, Internal Revenue Service Commissioner, said in a media call in November that tax filers and tax professionals should still file the returns with the earned income credit and additional child tax credit early in the season.
“They should file as they normally do, so they don’t add to any delay already in the system,” Koskinen said.