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IRS' Where's My Refund? site swamped by impatient refund tracking taxpayers

When I heard earlier today that the Internal Revenue Service was experiencing an inordinately large number of visitors to its online tax refund tracking tool, I shared the news via Twitter and Facebook.

And in my usual smart-alecky way, I just had to quip that, "I'm sure the rush on the IRS' Where's My Refund? page is directly tied to my Bankrate tax tip earlier this week. ;-D"

Then along comes Mary. No, not the one popularized by The Association (enjoy the video below). It was Mary O'Keeffe.

Mary, who teaches public finance at Union College, loves math and blogs at Bed buffaloes in your tax code, shot an arrow (it was, after all, Valentine's Day) smack into my self-congratulatory social media bubble of delusion.

"Actually, I think it is more likely that today's rush on checking Where's My Refund? has to do with the fact that the IRS started accepting returns with education credits at 8 a.m. this morning," Mary wrote on the ol' blog's Facebook wall. "So there was a huge backlog of returns that have been prepared and ready to go -- in some cases for three weeks -- that were submitted first thing this morning."

Mary's point is well-made and humbly taken.

Early filing rush normal: Every tax filing season the first taxpayers to submit returns are those who are getting refunds. And in some cases, those refund are thanks to tax credits.

The American Opportunity education tax credit, which as part of the fiscal cliff deal was extended through 2017, is one of the tax breaks that could get a filer some refund money even if they don't owe Uncle Sam a dime. As Mary notes, Form 8863 on which this credit is claimed was among those that the IRS started taking today.

Similarly, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which is available for taxpayers who earn some but not a lot of income, also is a refundable credit. Eligible lower- and middle-income taxpayers with kids get larger EITC amounts.

Because the U.S. economy was still shaky through most of 2012, a lot of folks are eligible for the EITC. And they filed as soon as they could, which was the later-than-usual Jan. 30 date, so they could get their refund money as soon as possible.

So the interest in getting refunds via these tax credits or just because folks had too much money withheld from their paychecks is high this year.

Just the latest filing hassle: The tax agency definitely has been under the gun so far in 2013. It's been playing catch-up for the last six weeks, working to update forms and its computer system because Congress took so long to act on several 2012 tax laws.

Then to guard against raising taxpayer expectations, the IRS this year did away with its refund cycle chart with all its specific, albeit qualified, refund delivery dates.

However, the effort to keep people from freaking out about the whereabouts of a refund when its estimated arrival date came and went appears to have backfired.

Taxpayers this season are following, in droves, the IRS' advice that they instead check Where's My Refund?

So the IRS now is begging asking us to please chill.

In an announcement today, the IRS "strongly urges taxpayers to only check on their refunds once a day." The agency notes that its systems are only updated once a day, usually overnight, and taxpayer account data will not change that frequently.

Good luck with your request IRS. You do realize that we Americans stand in front of our microwaves and yell "Hurry!"

But you can't blame a harried federal agency for asking.


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Your article was great and very funny! Normally taxes are no laughing matter but you made me smile.

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