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Where’s my refund? IRS changes phone services, offers online taxpayer help

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Expect the IRS toll-free hotlines to be bogged down with calls the week following Presidents Day, an IRS Feb. 13 press release warns. “The entire week of the Presidents Day holiday marks a peak time in the number of calls to the IRS,” said John Koskinen, IRS Commissioner, “… we encourage taxpayers to visit IRS.gov as the best place to get quick help.”

Because of the expected large volume of calls and limited resources, the IRS is limiting services available through its toll-free numbers and Taxpayer Assistant Centers.

Rather than waiting on hold, taxpayers can find the status of a refund, get answers to tax law questions, order a copy of a tax return or work out a payment plan for taxes owed using online tools.

Where to find answers to common tax questions:

When will I get my refund?

The IRS.gov website has a “Get your refund status” link that will prompt taxpayers to enter identifying information about their returns to track progress on their refund. Status for those that electronically file their returns is available 24 hours after filing. Those that file a paper return through the mail should wait four weeks to check their refund status.

Taxpayers will need their Social Security number, their filing status (single, head of household, etc.) and the exact amount of refund they are claiming. The information is updated every 24 hours. According to the IRS, refunds are usually issued within 21 days after the IRS has received the tax return.

The IRS also offers a mobile app, IRS2Go, for taxpayers that wish to check their refund status from a mobile device.

What should I do if my employer doesn't send me a W-2

Taxpayers that have not received a W-2 form from an employer will still need to contact the IRS by phone at (800)829-1040, but taxpayers are urged to contact their employer directly first. Employers, by law, must send employee W-2 forms by Jan. 31. The IRS will contact an employer for a taxpayer if the taxpayer’s efforts have not been successful.

Who can I claim as a dependent, what filing status should I select, and other general tax law questions

The IRS Interactive Tax Assistant (ITA) can help you find answers to your tax questions. Simply enter the topic in the ITA search box. For example, if you are unsure if you can claim a child as a dependent, enter “dependent” in the search bar. The ITA will lead you through a series of questions to determine if the child may be a dependent.

Do I qualify for Earned Income Credit?

Taxpayers with earned income of $51,567 or less may qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). This is a refundable credit. Any amount of the credit in excess of taxes due is refunded to the taxpayer. The EITC Assistant is an interactive tool that asks the taxpayer a series of questions to determine if the taxpayer is eligible for the credit and estimate the amount of the credit.

How do I get a copy of last year’s tax return?

You can order a hard copy of prior returns or view them online using the IRS “Get Transcript” tool. Hard copies take up to 10 days to arrive in the mail.

I can’t afford to pay my taxes

If you find you owe taxes and are unable to pay them before the April 15 deadline, you can apply for an installment agreement online. This is costly way to settle up with the IRS, but ignoring a tax obligations can lead to legal troubles.

The application fees with this option are $120 for a standard agreement, $52 for a direct debit agreement and $43 if the applicant meets low-income guidelines. The IRS will charge interest on the overdue balance of any taxes owed.

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