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Delays in delivery of tax refunds continue

Taxpayers are continuing to wait longer than usual to receive their refunds, and a recent problem with the IRS' "Where's My Refund" tool caused many to fear that their returns hadn't been filed at all, tax preparers say. In the past, most taxpayers who filed their tax returns electronically received their refunds in one to two weeks, says Gene King, a spokesman for H&R Block. This year, it's usually taking 10 to 21 days, he says. That's still within the historical time frame for delivery of refunds, says IRS spokeswoman Michelle Eldridge.

The IRS has attributed the delays to new safeguards installed in its computers to prevent refund fraud. While that means the IRS will provide additional screening of tax returns before refunds are issued, "The vast majority of taxpayers can still continue to expect to receive their refunds in a timely fashion," Eldridge says.

Bill Nemeth, an enrolled agent with Jackson Hewitt in Atlanta, says his clients usually receive their refunds in seven to 13 days. This year, it's taking 15 to 21 days, he says.

Even a one-week delay can create serious economic hardships for low-income taxpayers who rely on their refunds to pay the rent or meet other pressing needs, Nemeth says. "Our phones light up every morning" with calls from clients asking about their refunds, he says.

Ordinarily, taxpayers can check the status of their refunds by going to the IRS website and clicking on "Where's My Refund?" Earlier this month, though, taxpayers who used the tool were informed that the IRS had no information about their tax return. This led some taxpayers to fear that the IRS hadn't accepted their returns, even though their tax preparer had received an acknowledgment from the IRS, tax preparers say.

The IRS says the problem has been resolved. Earlier, it posted an advisory on its site explaining that if taxpayers received an acknowledgment that their return was received by the IRS, "They can be assured that the IRS has the tax return even though 'Where's My Refund' does not reflect that."

Through Feb. 16, the IRS issued 34.8 million refunds worth $110.9 billion. During the same period in 2011, the IRS issued 36.1 million refunds worth $115.3 billion. So far this year, the average refund is $3,183, according to the IRS.