Tax Administration:

Interim Report on Advance Tax Refunds

GAO-02-257: Published: Dec 13, 2001. Publicly Released: Jan 15, 2002.

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The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 directed the Treasury to issue advance 2001 tax refunds to individual taxpayers who filed a tax year 2000 return. As a result, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had to identify eligible taxpayers so that checks could be sent to these taxpayers by December 31, 2001. The Department of the Treasury's Financial Management Service was to issue the checks on behalf of IRS, with the first checks to be received during the week of July 23, 2001. As of September 30, 2001, 84 million taxpayers were to have received $36 billion in advance tax funds. IRS offset about $2.1 billion from these advance tax refunds to recover delinquent federal taxes. IRS spent $104 million to run the program through September 2001, which included IRS staffing costs as well as the costs associated with contracts, postage, and printing. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration identified two initial problems that affected either the accuracy or timeliness of the advance refund notices. One involved computer programming errors that resulted in 523,000 taxpayers receiving notices indicating that they would receive larger advance tax refunds than they were entitled to receive. The IG also determined that 5.3 million taxpayers who had filled their tax returns by the April 16 filing deadline would have delays of up to nine weeks in receiving their advance refund notices. Two problems that continued throughout the advance tax refund period involved (1) undeliverable refund notices and checks due to incorrect addresses and (2) taxpayer difficulties in reaching IRS telephone assistors. Another problem that was quickly identified and corrected during the early stages of the advance tax refund period involved duplicate checks sent to about 25 taxpayers.

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