2011 filing season trending higher in return processing and refunds

April 18, 2011 (the deadline for filing 2010 federal income tax returns) marks the official end for the 2011 filing season. According to the IRS, this year’s filing season has moved along with few problems. Statistics show that return filings of all Form 1040s for individual taxpayers are trending at a slightly higher pace from this time last year, with an increase particularly noticeable in the amount of refunds.  Of course, some individuals will owe money to the IRS and there are options for making payments. At the same time, there are more options for refunds, such as using refunds to purchase U.S. Savings Bonds. The IRS also reports that it expects more individuals than ever to file automatic six-month extensions to file. Although the extension is “automatic,” an extension request must nevertheless be filed by the April 18 deadline or the return will be considered late. Irrespective of an extension, full payment of your 2010 tax liability is due on April 18 in any case, with interest charged on late payments and late-payment penalties usually due.

IRS trends

In fiscal year (FY) 2010, the IRS collected more than $2.3 trillion in taxes, which represents over 90 percent of the federal government’s total receipts. The IRS processed over 140 million individual tax returns in FY 2010 and issued refunds worth $366 billion. The numbers are expected to be similar for FY 2011.

The IRS also reports that returns are coming in earlier. As of March 23, it had processed over 73 million individual income tax returns, an increase of 3.4 percent over the same time last year. Refunds also were up from the same time last year. The IRS issued $193 billion in refunds as of March 23, 2011, representing an increase of 1.6 percent from the same time last year.

Also trending higher are the numbers of tax returns filed electronically. The IRS reported that more than 65 million individual returns had been filed electronically as of March 23, 2011, an increase of 6.3 percent from the same time last year. Contributing to the growth in e-filing may be the IRS’s decision to no longer mail paper form packages to taxpayers. Individuals who want to file on paper returns must locate the returns on their own.

Economic pains

Another reality for the filing season is the economic downturn. The slowly recovering economy has left many individuals hurting financially. They may be unable to pay their federal tax obligations. The most important advice is to file your return. Failure to file a return or filing late can be costly. If taxes are owed, a delay in filing may result in penalty and interest charges that could increase your tax bill by 25 percent or more.

Taxpayers have several options in making payments to the IRS. Payments can be made by several electronic payment options, check, money order, cashier’s check, or cash. Taxpayers can authorize an electronic funds withdrawal when using IRS e-file to file their return, use a credit or debit card, or enroll in the U.S. Treasury’s Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS).

Some taxpayers may be considering an installment plan. Keep in mind that interest and penalties do not stop with an installment plan. Penalties and interest continue to be charged on the unpaid portion of the debt throughout the duration of the installment agreement/payment plan.

In February, the IRS announced some taxpayer-friendly changes affecting installment agreements. The IRS reported it will withdraw federal tax liens on taxpayers with unpaid assessments of $25,000 who enter into a direct debit installment agreement. The IRS will also withdraw federal tax liens for taxpayers on a regular installment agreement who convert to a direct debit installment agreement. Additionally, the IRS is making streamlined installment agreements available to more small businesses.

Refunds

The IRS is strongly encouraging individuals to have their refunds electronically deposited rather than receiving checks as was common in the past. Every year, many refund checks are returned to the IRS by the postal service as undeliverable because the recipient moved or the address was incorrect. Direct deposit also guards against theft of a refund check.

Taxpayers have several options for receiving their refunds. Among other things, they can:

  • Split a refund with direct deposits into two or three checking or savings accounts;
  • Direct deposit a refund into one checking or savings account; or
  • Buy up to $5,000 in U.S. Series I Savings Bonds with a refund.

Homebuyer credit

One of the most popular tax incentives in recent years was the first-time homebuyer credit. For most taxpayers, eligibility for the credit ended in 2010 (although members of the uniformed services, foreign service and intelligence community generally have an additional year to take advantage of the credit).

The IRS recently reported that it is experiencing delays in processing some returns reporting the credit. The affected returns are ones where taxpayers are reporting repayment of the credit. When Congress first enacted the credit in 2008, it was similar to a no-interest loan and had to be repaid over 15 years. Congress removed the repayment requirement for qualified homes purchased after 2008. The IRS emphasized that the delay is affecting only a small number of taxpayers.

If you have any questions about payments, refunds or any filing season news, please contact our office.


If and only to the extent that this publication contains contributions from tax professionals who are subject to the rules of professional conduct set forth in Circular 230, as promulgated by the United States Department of the Treasury, the publisher, on behalf of those contributors, hereby states that any U.S. federal tax advice that is contained in such contributions was not intended or written to be used by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer by the Internal Revenue Service, and it cannot be used by any taxpayer for such purpose.

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