Bequest benefits warblers of all sorts
Overcoming tax terrors

Is the IRS hanging onto your refund?

It does if your name is on one of the 107,831 refund checks that bounced back to the agency as undeliverable mail.

While the number of checks is tiny compared to the millions who file returns and get refunds, the amount that's in a holding pattern is huge.

The checks collecting dust instead of interest in their proper owners' bank accounts total $123.5 million.

Tax-refund-check (2) The average undeliverable refund check amount this year, says the IRS, is $1,148. That's $158 more than the average returned refund the agency got back last year.Of course, that's an average amount.

If you're one of the folks still waiting on your refund to show up in your snail mail box, your check could be smaller. Or it could be larger. And some folks are due more than one check.

A perennial problem: The IRS goes through this song and dance every fall. Thousands of folks don't get their refund checks, leaving millions sitting in Treasury.

How does this happen? How could you not know you're missing your refund? Or be expecting it and not raising holy hell about why it hasn't arrived?

I know life is hectic, but people you need to pay attention to your taxes, especially when you're owed money by the IRS!

Typically, folks file a return or an amended return and then move before the check arrives. Remember, with snail mail, refunds can take up to eight weeks to show up in your curbside box.

In other cases, the address on the return was just plain illegible (is "plain illegible" an oxymoron? Nah, just a Texas turn of phrase!) so the IRS folks had to make a best guess when entering it into the system.

If that guess was wrong, your poor penmanship meant your check went to the wrong place. And then it came back to the IRS.

Direct deposit could help: Both these common instances underscore why getting your refund directly deposited is usually a good idea.

As long as you enter in the correct back account information, your federal refund money will just show up there, usually in a matter of days instead of weeks, rather than being lost, returned as undeliverable or stolen from your mail box.

Getting your cash back: But you didn't do that. And now your check is among the 107,831 that were returned to Uncle Sam.

What can you do to get your rightful cash as soon as possible, especially since holiday shopping season is already here?

Wheres_my_refund_2009 logo Click on over to the IRS' Where's My Refund? page.

Using that online tracker, you enter your Social Security number, filing status and the amount of refund shown on your 2008 return. The system then will tell you the status of your refund. And you can update your address while you're there.

If you prefer the telephone, call 1-800-829-1954. You'll need the same info as required by the onlilne version of Where's My Refund.

Basic tax housekeeping: What if you aren't owed a refund but have moved?

There's no way (yet) to update your IRS data online or telephonically. Just make sure you enter your new address legibly when you file your 2009 return next year.

Or, if you want to make sure the IRS knows where you are -- and who doesn't? -- you can send the agency Form 8822, Change of Address.

You'll need to do that the old-fashioned, snail mail way. The addresses of where to send Form 8822, based on where you live and what sections you complete, are included in the form's instructions.

Finally, don't forget your state tax department. They need to know where you are, too.

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