State: Expect delays for this year's tax refunds

State: Expect delays for this year's tax refunds
Updated: Jan. 4, 2017 at 5:37 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state is again warning taxpayers that they may need to wait as many as 16 weeks for a refund check after filing a Hawaii state tax return.

The delays are part of an increased effort to prevent fraud that was launched in 2015.

"We do believe that it will be less than (16 weeks)," said Maria Zielinski, state Department of Taxation director. "I personally would rather err on the side of not having people expect something sooner and then they don't get it."

Tax preparers pin the slowdown on the stepped-up search for tax cheaters.

"Someone claiming a deduction, an inflated expense, or a deduction that would generate a larger refund... They're trying to prevent the payout of that," said David Ramirez of Tax Relief Services.

Last year, 638 state tax returns were flagged as problematic, for a variety of reasons. The tax office says it uncovered $12.2 million in fraudulent filings.

Honolulu resident Paul Cassens applauds the department for staying on top of potential fraud.

"I think it's also reasonable that they investigate cases where they feel there's a reason to investigate," he said.

Zielinski says taxpayers can also expect a slower turnaround from the IRS. Federal taxation officials will scrutinize returns that include earned income and child care tax credits. The time from filing to receiving a refund check could take a month or longer, which sometimes hurts lower income earners.

"My experience is that those individuals that are in that [lower] income category really are expecting that income to come in," said Ramirez. "They use it as almost an additional paycheck."

To minimize the delay, Zielinski suggests people file returns electronically.

"If you have a paper return, it's got to be handled by a human being," Zielinski said. "It starts out in the mail room and it goes from there. There's a much longer process. If it's e-filing, it's already in our system, as soon as it hits the e-file," she said.

Zielinski says she foresees keeping the longer refund delay period in place until 2019.

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