Residents, like IRS, can expect checks in mail

Rebates to come

April 15, 2008|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,Sun reporter

The check's in the mail. Sort of.

Today is the last day for most people to settle up on their federal and state income taxes. But this year, citizens, including late filers who usually owe money, have something to look forward to: cash back, care of their government.

In coming months, in addition to refunds for overpaid income taxes, Americans - if they qualify - can expect a check from the federal government designed to boost the economy. And for Marylanders, there's more: a credit on their gas and electric bill negotiated by the state.

The precise terms of some of these payments are still being worked out, but the economic stimulus payments are expected to start hitting the mail in May. The approximately $170 Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. credit approved by the Maryland General Assembly last week will show up on bills by the end of the year, according to the settlement.

"I'm glad to get some money back. It'll be great," said Mishana Prophete, 27, a nursing student who commutes to Howard University from Mount Vernon.

"As a scholarship student, every dollar's accounted for," she said. Receiving money unexpectedly is a pleasant surprise, she said.

Meanwhile, those who qualify will receive from the federal government economic stimulus payments ranging from $300 to $600, or double that amount for married couples filing jointly.

Eligibility for economic stimulus payments includes anyone who receives at least $3,000 in wages, Social Security benefits, certain Veterans Affairs disability or survivor benefits or railroad retirement. Supplemental Security Income cannot be counted toward the $3,000. The rebates will be sent out between May 2 and May 16 to people who requested direct deposit on their tax returns, with the issue dates based on the last two digits of the filer's Social Security number.

For those who opted for a paper check, the IRS will mail their rebates from May 16 to July 11, with that order also based on Social Security numbers.

Those who qualify for a rebate must file a tax return to get it, even if they do not usually file.

IRS staff members will help people who are not ordinarily required to fill out a return at Taxpayer Assistance Centers statewide, said agency spokesman Jim Dupree. They have until Oct. 15 to file if they want to receive a return by the end of the year.

It is unclear when the one-time utility credits will appear on bills, or how they will be paid. BGE spokeswoman Linda Foy said yesterday in an e-mail that the company is working out the details of a payment schedule, part of a $2 billion settlement with the utility's parent company, Constellation Energy Group.

The timing of Maryland income tax refunds might also be hard to predict. State tax payments are a priority right now, said Caron Brace, a spokeswoman for the state comptroller's office. It is going to process payments faster than refunds to make sure that the state revenue is coming in, she said.

There is another practical reason to tackle tax payments first. "You don't want the check to be sitting there for a month, so we don't get bounced checks," Brace said.

Still, if people have filed electronically with no errors and request direct deposit, their state refund could arrive within five days. Filers who submitted a paper return will see refunds deposited directly between May 15 and May 31, she said. Taxpayers who requested paper checks on their paper return should look for them within that time period, as well.

Federal tax refunds will be issued by direct deposit within 10 days of submission of an electronic return, Dupree said. Requests for paper-check refunds on tax forms sent electronically will arrive within three weeks, he said; paper returns can take six to eight weeks to process.

Electronic filers get their money faster because "it's just so much easier for us to process," Dupree said.

Help is available if you need it.

Taxpayers can call the IRS at 800-829-1040 until midnight today. People can also seek help at the IRS' Taxpayer Assistance Centers, such as 31 Hopkins Plaza in Baltimore, which will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Representatives from the state comptroller's office will be stationed there today, as well. Statewide, all agency locations will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Brace said. People can also call 800-MD- TAXES for free state tax help from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. until Friday.

The main post office on Fayette Street in Baltimore will be open until midnight, and other post offices around the state will have extended hours.

Last-minute filers can save on postage by dropping off completed tax returns at tables outside Baltimore's Fallon Federal Building from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. today.

They will also distribute and collect extension forms there for people who cannot finish their returns on time.

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