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Take the Snail Out of the Rebate Mail

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Thursday, April 10, 2008; Page D02

Taxpayers have been ringing the Internal Revenue Service telephones in record numbers trying to get answers about the upcoming economic stimulus payments.

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In a recent report, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration noted that the IRS has been averaging more than 50,000 calls per day regarding the stimulus -- significantly above the normal volume of calls the agency gets this time of year. And this is still after the IRS spent $45 million mailing out more than 130 million notices explaining the payments.

I may not be getting as many calls as the IRS, but readers have been filling up my e-mail inbox with head-scratching questions about the tax rebate checks. So I asked Jim Dupree, an IRS spokesman, to answer some of the queries.

One frequent question comes from people who owe taxes this year and are entitled to a stimulus check. Here's what one reader wanted to know: "I am about ready to send in my taxes and I owe money. Do I then have no choice but to await a paper check, or is there some way I can arrange for direct deposit?"

Dupree responded: "Fill out your bank routing and account information before you submit the return and you'll receive your stimulus payment via direct deposit."

You can find the option for direct deposit on the 1040 forms in the section labeled "Refund." You also have the option of dividing your refund into multiple accounts. To split your refund, you need to fill out a separate form, IRS Form 8888, "Direct Deposit of Refund to More Than One Account."

If you don't fill out the section for bank account information on your tax return, your economic stimulus check will be mailed. And I'm sorry to tell you, if you've already filed your return and you owed money and didn't fill in that section with your account numbers, there's nothing you can do to get the stimulus payment direct-deposited. You'll have to wait for a paper check.

Folks who filled out the direct deposit section -- whether they owed money or were due a refund -- will get their stimulus checks sooner, according to the payment schedule the IRS released recently.

"What happens if you file a paper return with a small tax refund due and have asked that the refund be applied to next year's taxes?" one reader asked. "Will the stimulus check go to next year's taxes too?"

Dupree says no. You will receive your stimulus payment directly. (Come on, you know they want us to spend that money right away to jump-start the economy. But don't do it if you're financially strapped. Pay down debt or build up an emergency fund instead.)

Some taxpayers are still confused about how much they are going to receive under the stimulus package.

Here's a typical question: "If a family's parents' adjusted gross income is so high that they do not qualify for a stimulus payment, will the additional $300 payment for each of their 'qualifying children' also be phased out?"


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