A lot of people dread the thought of filing their tax returns. They detest the chore so much, in fact, that they procrastinate until the very last moment, or even longer. In fact, the number of people who request extensions rises every year.
If you're one of those people who has to be dragged to the tax deadline kicking and screaming, you may be shocked to learn that there are lots of people who like to file that paperwork as early as possible. (Yes, it's true. Some people like brussels sprouts, too. Go figure.)
Those early birds may be unhappy to hear that their refunds will probably be delayed this year.
The problem is that Congress (like us tax return procrastinators) dragged its feet while trying to get some popular tax deductions reinstated. Those deductions affect students, teachers, and people who live in states reliant on sales taxes.
The IRS couldn't just wait around for lawmakers to find the time to finish the job. It had to send the forms and instructions for this upcoming tax season to the printer in November, and it couldn't assume that lawmakers would revive the tax breaks.
The IRS doesn't plan to reprint the forms and instructions, so the packages that go out to taxpayers in late December and early January will not include the updated information with the new tax deductions. For more details, you'll have to look to the IRS website. The tax collectors will also put out a specific publication highlighting tax changes in 2006 to give you all the gritty details.
This confusion may be a big problem for anyone who still likes to feel the newsprint between their fingers while they page through their tax forms and instructions. It's less of a problem for anyone who uses software to prepare their taxes. Those folks are probably busy reprogramming their products right now.
The IRS also needs to reprogram its own computers -- a task that it expects to take about six weeks. Then that reprogramming needs to be tested. In a letter to Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, who will take the helm of the Senate Finance Committee next year, the IRS said all this reworking will create a logjam. The IRS will not be able to start processing tax returns on time next year, so early filers will experience delays getting their refunds.
The IRS, by the way, also expects general confusion, increased call volume to its telephone help lines, and more amended returns than usual. Sounds like a lot of fun, doesn't it?
If you want to ensure that you get your refund as quickly as possible, there are a couple things you can do to speed up the process. If you file your return electronically instead of mailing it in on paper, it will be more quickly processed. You can do this using tax software or through a professional tax preparer.
A group of companies have agreed to make some tax preparation software available free through the IRS website, which enables anyone eligible for the program to electronically file their return.
You can also ask the IRS to deposit your refund check directly to your bank, savings, or even IRA account. Beginning this year, you can even split the check among several accounts. The electronic route, again, can be speedier than waiting for the printed check to arrive in the mail. It also saves you a trip to the bank.
That means there's no excuse for not putting a big chunk of that refund check straight into a savings account. You'll get even more tax advantages if you can salt it away in a retirement account, where it can be left to grow unhindered by taxes. Look to the IRA Center to learn more about taking advantage of tax laws to build your retirement nest egg.
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Fool contributor Mary Dalrymple welcomes your feedback.