Taxpayers are already voicing their displeasure about delayed tax refunds in 2017 - and tax season just opened. However, not all of the information that is being shared about the delay is correct. The delays are not discretionary, the decision to hold refunds is not controlled by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and not all taxpayers will be affected. Here's what you need to know.
More than a year ago, Congress passed the "Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015." The section of the law that focuses on refunds, section 201, kicks into gear this year. Under the new law, the IRS must wait until February 15, 2017, to issue refunds to taxpayers who claimed the earned-income tax credit (EITC) or the additional child tax credit (ACTC).
Affected taxpayers should expect the IRS to hold their entire refund check. The IRS isn't allowed to release the part of the refund that is not associated with the EITC and ACTC.
So why the delay? And why those two credits?
The EITC and the ACTC are both refundable tax credits. A refundable tax credit can reduce your tax liability below zero. If the amount of the refundable credit is larger than the amount of tax you owe, you are due a tax refund. With a refundable tax credit, you can get a tax refund even if you didn’t have any tax obligation and even if you didn’t pay into the system.
By way of comparison, a nonrefundable tax credit means you get a refund only up to the amount you owe for taxes. With a nonrefundable tax credit, a taxpayer can only reduce tax liability to zero: there is no refund for excess nonrefundable credit. Nonrefundable credits are the most common type of tax credits.
You can see, then, why taxpayers love refundable credits and why thieves and scammers love them, too.