Bankrate's 2009 Tax Guide
Filing & refunds
Resolving a wrong refund amount

"If it's just listed on the return as 'Smith,' in these cases the IRS disallows the dependency exemption because of the mismatch."

Other debts collected from refunds

Your tax check also might be a direct path to other money you owe.

The government can go through your federal refund to collect if you owe money to other government agencies. The most common cases involve court-ordered financial payments associated with a former marriage or unpaid student loans.

"If there are any child or spousal support payments, then the county of residence can go and claim their payments from your refund," says Wiggins.

"And it's not an issue here in Texas, but in other states, tax officials there can go after your federal refund for state income tax debts."

The IRS will even make sure it gets prior federal tax debts that you didn't clear.

"I also have seen cases where taxpayers have a payment arrangement in place with the IRS and the agency collects from the filer's current refund," says Wiggins. "The agreement says they can apply any refund you have against what you owe.

"So even if you're making timely payments on your agreement with IRS, they can still apply the refund to that prior debt."

Self-correcting your mistakes

In a worst-case scenario, you might not even get a refund.

"You'll get a letter telling you to refile," says Scharin.

You also should refile your return and refigure your tax bill and any refund if you find a mistake that the IRS overlooked in processing. If the IRS does eventually notice the error, you'll face penalties and interest on the amount you didn't properly pay on time.

In these cases, file an amended return, Form 1040X, and send the original, incorrect refund check back to the agency.

The IRS says to include a letter of explanation with the check. The agency will issue you a refund for the proper amount when it processes your amended return.

On the back of the check where you normally would endorse it, write "void." Send the check and your letter detailing why you're sending back the check. Be sure to include your name, Social Security number, mailing address and a daytime telephone number in case an agent needs to follow up with you.

Send the check back to the issuing center; you'll find that location on the front of the check. Before you drop it in the mail, make a copy of the check and your letter for your files. It's a good idea to send the material with a return receipt for additional verification for your records.

You also can call the IRS's toll-free number and ask to speak to taxpayer accounts. Explain that the original refund check has been returned uncashed so the agency will know why it's issuing you a second refund.

It's no fun to return tax cash, but by making sure you get your payment and refund records straight, you'll know you won't have to worry about unexpectedly hearing from the IRS in the future.

Watch "Odds of being audited"


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