Where's my amended tax refund?

March 26, 2024 by Steve Banner, EA, MBA
Man thinking

Those were the first words out of Harry’s mouth when he opened the door to my office. He was tired and flustered, and I didn’t blame him for feeling that way. A sleepless night with a restless baby is enough to test the patience of any parent, let alone a first-time father who is still coming to grips with the ins and outs of caring for an infant.

“Just when I thought we were starting to know what we were doing, now she suddenly decides to start getting more teeth” he lamented. “We were up most of the night with her. I sure hope this doesn’t happen with every tooth from now on!” My own children had long since set out on their own, so my memory was a bit dim on the matter of teething tikes. But I did my best to reassure him, and then endeavored to change the subject to the purpose of his sudden and unexpected visit.

Harry was a new client this year who, like many others, had long prided himself on his ability to prepare his own tax returns. No disrespect intended, but Harry was not the most patient of souls and was the type who would never read the instructions for assembling a piece of flatpack furniture. Such things were a waste of time in his estimation. When I first met Harry at our new client interview, I could see that he had carried this same corner-cutting approach to the preparation of his annual tax returns. Although he had purchased tax preparation software, it appeared that he had either not read or had completely ignored the instructions and advice built into the program.

Despite his misuse of the tax software, he had managed to receive a refund every year, which only served to reinforce his long-held opinion that instructions are not worth the time it takes to read them. In fact, the only reason he came to me for the preparation of his current return was because his wife made him do it.

As I interviewed Harry and reviewed his prior year’s self-prepared return, I offered a silent prayer of thanks for his wife, because the return was a mess and he had badly short-changed himself. According to the facts of Harry’s case, he was eligible for both the Child Tax Credit and the Child and Dependent Care Credit, yet he had not claimed either of the two. He was thus relieved to hear that we could not only claim those credits this year, but we could also amend his previous return and claim the credits on that return. Overall, Harry would be several thousand dollars better off after those two returns were processed.

Within a few weeks, Harry had received his refund for the current year, but now he was back in my office wondering where the rest of his much-anticipated windfall was. It was not surprising when I thought about it. A sleepless night with a crying child is enough to make anyone think about how to fund a getaway to a tropical destination – and the sooner the better.

After I prepared his amended return, I told Harry that processing by the IRS would take in the region of 20 weeks. And yet here he was after 6 weeks, wondering when he would receive the funds. I had also given him written information about the online tool that the IRS offers for taxpayers to track the progress of their amended returns. Obviously, this information had long since been discarded (like the instructions to assemble a bedside table), so I took a deep breath and began to explain once again.

The Where’s My Amended Return? Tool allows taxpayers to check the status of an amended return around 3 weeks after they submit it, so using Harry’s:

 

  • Social Security number
  • Date of birth, and
  • Zip code


I was able to show him that his amended return had been received and was being processed. I also told him that in case his computer wasn’t working, he could use the IRS’s amended return hotline at 866-464-2050 to check on the status of his amended return.

After reminding him that processing could take around 20 weeks, I warned him that it may take longer if any of the following were true about the amended return:

 

  • It contained errors.
  • It was incomplete.
  • It was not signed.
  • It has been returned to him requesting more information.
  • It had been affected by identity theft or fraud.


Although I thought that none of the above was likely to happen in Harry’s case, he didn’t seem to be convinced. I tried to reassure him by telling him that he could at least see the status of his simple return, whereas in some more complex cases, the online tool is of no use at all. For example, the online tool cannot provide the status of the following returns or claims:

 

  • Business returns
  • Returns with a foreign address
  • Carryback applications and claims
  • Injured spouse claims
  • Form 1040 marked as an amended or corrected return (instead of 1040-X)
  • Returns processed by special units such as Examination or Bankruptcy

Again, Harry didn’t look convinced. It was as if he had received a $20 parking fine and I was trying to console him by saying “Don’t worry, it could have been a $100 fine.” Either way, he would still be out of pocket.

Harry sighed “So, you’re telling me it could take another 3 months or more for my refund?” I nodded in agreement. “And in the meantime, I can keep checking the online tool or calling the toll-free number?” I nodded again, grateful that he had seemed to grasp the situation correctly.

“Now”, I thought, “if only he can be trusted not to throw away the instructions I just gave him!”

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Steve Banner, EA, MBA
Tax Content Developer

 

Steve Banner began his career in the field of income tax in 1977 and has since gathered business experience in a variety of countries and cultures. In addition to the United States, he has lived and worked for extended periods in Australia, Saudi Arabia, Canada, and Sweden. Along the way he studied Adult Education and earned a Bachelor of Education, Master of Educational Administration, and MBA. He joined TaxAudit in 2016, where he is a Tax Content Developer.


 

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