Tax refund day is here! Sort of.

Today is a big day for you if you’re expecting a federal tax refund. Feb. 15 when the Internal Revenue Service can finally start issuing refunds to folks who claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC).

Celebrating a tax refund_eFile989 via Flickr

Photo by eFile989 via Flickr

But don’t head to your bank just yet.

Cleared, but not completed: The refund hold, mandated by the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes, or PATH, Act as, in part, a way to help stop tax identity theft and refund fraud, does officially end today.

But from the get-go of this filing season, the IRS warned refund-eager filers that it likely will be the end of February before their tax money actually shows up in accounts.

It reiterated that message in a special email yesterday to tax professionals:

By law, the IRS is required to hold EITC and ACTC refunds until Feb. 15. However, taxpayers may not see those refunds until the week of Feb. 27. Due to differing timeframes with financial institutions, weekends and the Presidents Day holiday, these refunds likely will not start arriving in bank accounts or on debit cards until the week of Feb. 27 — if there are no processing issues with the tax return and the taxpayer chose direct deposit.

Yep, you read that last line right. The IRS is giving itself a little more wiggle room by noting that run-of-the-mill tax return and refund processing issues could push the refund delivery date even further.

So what are you to do aside from scream?

Check online: The IRS suggests that you check its online Where’s My Refund? status tool. But not until Saturday, Feb. 18.

That day, says the IRS, is when the online refund tracker will be updated with the bulk of refund information for filers who claimed the EITC and/or ACTC.

Before that date, notes the IRS, some taxpayers may see a projected deposit date or an intermittent message that the IRS is processing their return.

And while I really, really hate to put yet another damper on your refund tracking enthusiasm, don’t be surprised if the tool runs a bit slowly.

In past years when special circumstances, usually produced when Congress acted on tax laws at the last minute, the swamped online refund tracker ran into some troubles. I’m hoping that won’t happen this year, but it’s better to expect the worse and be pleasantly surprised.

To take some of the pressure off Where’s My Refund?, the IRS reminds taxpayers to only call once a day. That’s the frequency with which the system will be updated, usually in the evening.

What not to do: Also, don’t bother a real IRS representative with questions about when you might get your refund.

We’re entering the busiest time for the IRS, which means its free telephone assistance hotline is generally jammed with folks seeking help to file their returns.

The IRS phone representatives do not (emphasis by the IRS) have additional information on refund dates beyond what taxpayers have access to on “Where’s My Refund?” So don’t call the general help line unless you’re directed to do so by the refund tool.

You also might want to check out the common refund myths that are circulating this filing season. They will help you get a better handle on what’s really happening with your tax return and refund.

Patience pays off: The bottom line is to be patient.

Some folks are posting expected delivery dates for refunds, but those are just guesses. They’re based on historic IRS data showing that refunds typically go out by at least 21 days after a return is filed.

That’s the typical delivery goal. Your refund, however, could arrive sooner or, unfortunately, later.

But at least now the IRS is operating on its own processing and refund issuing schedule, no longer hampered by a manufactured delay established by Capitol Hill.

So hang in there. You’ll eventually get your refund.

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