published Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Dozens of refunds held up by tax return snag

Dozens of people who filed their federal income tax returns electronically through a free program sponsored by the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga thought they would have received their refunds by now.

Instead they are finding that the IRS rejected their returns filed via the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA, program.

Compounding the problem, some clients said their calls to the Urban League to ask about the problem weren't always returned promptly. That left clients to wonder what was going on.

CHECK ON YOUR RETURN

VITA: If you filed your return electronically through the VITA program and it has not been received by the IRS, call the Urban League at 756-1762. A tax coordinator will assist in correcting any errors.

IRS: Call consultant Joseph Kotsis at 290-5319 or e-mail joseph.j.kotsis2@IRS.gov.

Online: Visit www.IRS.gov. Go to "Where's my refund" on the site. If after three or four days the website still says the tax return has not been received, there may be a problem.

Urban League officials said Wednesday they didn't initially realize anything was wrong.

But, "as soon as we learned there was a problem we got on top of it," said Chief Operating Officer James McKissic.

He and other officials blamed the rejected returns on a combination of tax law changes approved late last year and a delay in updating computer software.

"Remember this year when government officials waited and changed the tax laws at the last minute?" said McKissic. "That caused the VITA IRS software, called Tax Wise, to not be totally updated when the VITA program started."

Dan Boone, IRS spokesman for Alabama and Tennessee, said the agency had to reprogram computers to accommodate three deductions that were reinstated.

"We announced in January that we would be able to process returns with those three deductions starting Feb. 14," Boone said.

But McKissic said that wasn't communicated to the Urban League, so its VITA volunteers started filing tax returns, including the deductions in question, before then.

Only 67 clients, those who itemized taxes and filed during the first weeks of the tax season, have been affected by the problem, McKissic said. That's a small part of the estimated 4,000 returns the Chattanooga-area VITA program expects to file by the time tax season is over, he said.

"We've been doing this for seven years. This is the first time we've had these problems," McKissic said.

The clients in the Chattanooga area weren't the only ones affected.

Boone said the delay in updating the computer software affected about 6 percent of income tax filers across the country.

correction working

VITA program clients and Urban League officials learned there was a problem only recently after looking up completed tax returns online.

Urban League computers showed that the filed taxes were acknowledged as received by the IRS. But when clients looked them up at home, the IRS website indicated the returns had not been received, McKissic said.

The Urban League's software has since been updated, but clients with tax returns that have been filed but not received by the IRS are asked to call the Urban League.

James Stoker was among the nearly six dozen people whose returns were rejected.

The 64-year-old fleet manager for U.S. Xpress said the Urban League's correction process worked for him.

"They did the service for me at no charge and it (the problem) just boils down to a computer glitch," he said.

After leaving messages with the Urban League, he said an IRS representative called him Tuesday and said they were working on the issue. When he checked IRS.gov on Wednesday, the website showed that his refund is being processed.

McKissic said his office has gotten a lot of phone calls and has hired two people this month to assist with all the questions.

"We're doing everything we can to correct this," McKissic said.

He said he still encourages tax filers to use VITA, a program intended to help those who earn up to $50,000.

"People should still use the Urban League VITA Program because it's still the best deal in town," McKissic said. "It's totally free."

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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