The Internal Revenue Service is looking for 953 Western New York taxpayers -- but for a good reason. They have more than a half-million dollars in unclaimed tax refunds and economic stimulus payments waiting for them.
The agency has released its annual list of local taxpayers with unclaimed tax refunds. But this year's list was more than three times larger than 2007's because it also included taxpayers who did not receive the economic stimulus payments they should have received, said Kevin B. McKeon, an IRS spokesman.
The bulk of the unclaimed refunds and stimulus payments resulted from errors in a taxpayer's mailing address that can be quickly corrected by visiting the IRS Web site at www.irs.gov, or calling the agency's toll-free hotline at (800) 829-1954, he said.
On Page D2 is a list of local taxpayers who have unclaimed refunds or stimulus payments due them. If you buy or have the newspaper home delivered in Erie County, the list will contain the names of Erie County taxpayers. Elsewhere, the list will contain the names of taxpayers from the other seven Western New York counties. A combined list of all the taxpayers is posted on The News Web site, www.buffalonews.com.
For taxpayers who didn't get their economic stimulus payments, time is of the essence. Taxpayers must update their mailing addresses by Nov. 28, giving the agency enough time to send out the stimulus checks before the Dec. 31 cutoff date imposed by Congress for mailing those payments.
But the few minutes it takes for taxpayers to update their mailing address will be time well spent. In all, 745 taxpayers in Western New York are eligible to receive unclaimed stimulus payments totaling more than $390,000. Those checks will average about $540, according to IRS statistics.
As for taxpayers with unclaimed refunds, 232 people locally are eligible to receive more than $150,000 in excess tax payments, averaging $742, the IRS said. Some taxpayers have more than one unclaimed tax refund or stimulus payment, McKeon said.
Most of the refunds and stimulus payments went unclaimed after the checks were sent out by the IRS and then were returned as undeliverable. Government checks cannot be forwarded, even if a taxpayer has left a new address with the U.S. Postal Service.
Some refunds also go unclaimed because postal regulations require that government checks be returned when taxpayers change their names, such as through marriage or divorce, and the check is not made out in their new name.
Refunds also sometimes are unclaimed when the address on the tax return is illegible or incorrect or when a taxpayer dies and the estate's executor is unaware that a refund went unclaimed.
Taxpayers can check to see if they have a missing refund coming to them by visiting the IRS Web site and using the "Where's my refund?" feature that is accessible from the home page.
Taxpayers will be asked to enter their Social Security number, filing status and the amount of refund from their 2007 return. The service then will show the status of the refund and, in some cases, give instructions on how to resolve delivery problems.
Having refunds deposited directly into a taxpayer's bank account can eliminate many of the problems leading to undelivered refund checks, McKeon said. It also reduces the risk of the refund being lost or stolen.