IRS reports $1.2 mil in excess refunds

Two-thirds of undeliverable refund checks are in the metro area.

Kelly Gulbrandson

With the holiday season already in swing, many students could use a little extra cash.

For those people, the Internal Revenue Service might have the answer. Carrie Resch, spokeswoman for the IRS in St. Paul, said the office has 1,431 returned refund checks totaling nearly $1.2 million for people in Minnesota.

Two-thirds of the refunds are for people whose last-known addresses were in the metro area, which would average $828 per taxpayer, she said.

“Our goal is to get the money back in the taxpayers’ hands,” Resch said.

The high number of returned checks could be the result of people who moved and didn’t notify the IRS of their changed addresses, she said. Many college students could fit into this category.

Resch said some people filed paper returns and had illegible addresses.

Mark Sellner, director of graduate studies in taxation at the Carlson School of Management, said students who didn’t make enough to file a return but still had money withheld from their checks would also be on the list.

Anyone who is missing a tax refund is encouraged to check the IRS’s Web site to claim their money, Resch said.

Music therapy sophomore Ashley Lundberg said she was on the list because her family recently moved and her refund is usually sent to her parents’ house.

“I was not aware I was on the list,” she said. “My dad usually does my taxes so I never knew I had a refund coming.”

Sellner said the IRS has safeguards in place to prevent fraud for people using the Web site to claim their refunds.

“People would need to provide their social security number and the total amount they were supposed to get back,” he said. “They can’t just check for themselves or friends without this information.”

These security measures are a way to prevent scams, Resch said. E-mail scams are also a problem the office has to deal with, she said, such as when people receive a supposed IRS e-mail stating they have refunds available, but need to submit personal information.

“These e-mails are not from the IRS,” Resch said. “The IRS would never send e-mails to people who have a refund, asking for personal information.”

The IRS receives returned refund checks every year, Resch said, but the number in Minnesota increased 26 percent this year, compared to 21 percent nationally, because of the Telephone Excise Tax Refund.

The Telephone Tax Excise Refund, which averages $30 per person, is a one-time-only payment for anyone who’s paid taxes on a land telephone line or cell phone, according to the IRS Web site.

Resch and Sellner both proposed ways to prevent this problem.

“The number of returned refund checks would decrease if people filed online and requested direct deposit,” Resch said.

Another way to cut down on the number of returned refunds is to have students use their parent’s address or notify the IRS when they move, Sellner said.

If the refunds aren’t claimed by the end of the year, Resch said they stay in the IRS’s computer system. The system tracks refunds by social security number, so when the person files again next year the pending refund will show, she said.

Sellner said the IRS’s client service and Web site have improved in the past few years.

“A few years ago, I wouldn’t have used their Web site as a primary source of information,” he said. “But it has now been upgraded with a lot of useful information for the public.”

While some students quickly spend their refund money, others put their refunds away for the future.

Global studies sophomore Sara Kettering said she got a refund this year but she’d like to see fewer taxes taken out of her paychecks.

“I do understand, though, where the money that comes out of my paycheck goes and that it’s for a good purpose,” she said.

Biomedical engineering junior Marit Sanders said she has received a tax refund every year since she was 16 years old.

She said her parents always told her to save the money for college, and that she would prefer to break even with her taxes.

“That way I would have more money upfront and not have to worry about it at the end of the year,” she said.