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When will you receive your tax refund? Here's how to check, and what you can do to get it faster

Russ Wiles
Arizona Republic
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The Arizona Department of Revenue is cautioning taxpayers to scrutinize information on 1099-G forms received in the mail over the past week or so before filing tax returns. The forms are supposed to list any state tax refunds from the prior year — in this case, from tax year 2015. Instead, by mistake, the department mailed out forms that list refund information from 2014 or earlier tax years.

Tax-return filing season started Jan. 23, and that means refunds aren't far off for most taxpayers. About two in three households received refunds on their federal and state returns last year, and for some people it's the biggest chunk of change they will get all year.

Refunds averaged around $3,039 for federal returns last year, and they averaged $738 in Arizona. However, the proportion of people receiving refunds and the amounts paid are expected to drop this year because of the scaling back or elimination of some popular deductions and credits.

Here are answers to a few key questions:

Question: When will I get my refund?

Answer: The Internal Revenue Service says most federal refunds could come within 21 days of filing. The Arizona Department of Revenue said state refunds could be available in as little as two weeks.

Federal refunds on returns claiming the EITC or earned income tax credit will take a bit longer. By law, the IRS can’t issue a refund that includes the EITC or the Additional Child Tax Credit before mid-February. That's part of an effort to deter fraud. The IRS said it expects most EITC/ACTC refunds to be available by Feb. 28.

Q: How can I make the refund process go faster?

Millions of Americans have watched their retirement accounts balloon in value in recent years. But if a good chunk of your assets are held in traditional Individual Retirement Accounts or workplace 401(k)-style plans, you eventually will have to pay taxes on the balances. Hence, you're not as wealthy as you might assume.

Refunds are processed faster for people who file electronically, including through paid tax preparers, and who have set up direct deposit accounts to accept the money. Electronic filing also is deemed more secure than submitting paper-based returns. More than 90% of taxpayers submit their federal returns electronically.

The differences in wait times can be significant. The Arizona Department of Revenue said it took an average of nine days last year to turn around refunds on electronically submitted returns, compared to 56 days for refunds from paper filings.

Q: Where can I check the status of my refund?

The IRS has a “where’s my refund” page at irs.gov. Arizona has a similar website feature at azdor.gov.

Ready, set, file:What to know as income-tax season nears

Q: Are there reasons why I might delay filing taxes?

Yes. For example, if you expect to owe taxes, there’s no particular reason to file and pay early, though doing so still might be wise in terms of deterring someone else from fraudulently filing a return in your name. Crooks do this in hopes of claiming a refund. Also, it’s generally best to wait if you haven’t yet received certain tax documents such as Forms 1099 for unemployment compensation, dividends, pensions and retirement-plan distributions taken last year.

Another reason to delay is not having a Social Security number available for a child, which can disrupt refunds on returns claiming dependents, the child tax credit and more. And filing early might not make sense if you think you might need to file an amended return later.

ax-return filing season started Jan. 23, and that means refunds aren't far off for most taxpayers.

Q: Where can I get tax-preparation help?

There are many ways to get assistance.

For example, IRS partners with various tax firms that provide free (or mostly free) online return-preparation help. This is the Free File Alliance, and it’s available to people with low or moderate incomes. People with adjusted gross incomes of $73,000 or less are eligible. Arizona has its own Free File program, which you can review at the department's website, azdor.gov.

Other free or low-cost programs include those offered by VITA, or Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, and TCE, or Tax Counseling for the Elderly. These offer in-person assistance at libraries, schools and other public places around the Phoenix area, and nationally. Check out irs.gov/VITA and irs.gov/TCE for more information.

Q: What are the key return-filing deadlines I should know?

Generally, returns are due this year by April 18 for both federal and Arizona taxes. However, taxpayers may receive automatic extensions until Oct. 16 if they apply for one, using Form 4868 for federal returns and 204 for Arizona. Extensions provide more time to file but not more time to pay any expected tax liability.

Q: Can I visit local offices of the IRS and Arizona Department of Revenue?

Yes, but appointments are required. The IRS has Arizona offices in Phoenix, Mesa, Glendale and Tucson, which are generally open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 844-545-5640 for more information and to set up appointments. For more information on Arizona offices, check for office locations at the azdor.gov website.

Reach the writer at [email protected]

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