Kathy Waterbury was walking the hallway at work when another employee at the Mississippi Department of Revenue (DOR) stopped her.
“What they told me was that a man had filed his state taxes but hadn’t gotten his refund,” Waterbury, the communications director for the DOR, explained. “And when they asked how long ago the man had filed his taxes, he told them about three hours before he called.”
While Waterbury laughed about the exchange, she said taxpayers are looking for their refunds much more quickly than they have in the past.
“They want their money, and in the age of computers, they want it now,” she said.
Of course, a little impatience is a signal that e-filing and rebate check site pages are being embraced by the public. Utah State Tax Commission spokesman Charlie Roberts told Government Technology that almost 80 percent of tax filers are using e-delivery to process their taxes.
“A couple years ago, we thought we’d hit a ceiling at around 50 percent,” Roberts said. “But it just keeps going up, rising steadily over the last six years.”
As for the refund status site page, it’s “one of the most popular [in Utah]” Roberts said.
Forty-two states offer refund status checks. Florida, Alaska, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas and Washington don’t have state income taxes, while Tennessee and New Hampshire don’t have a site.
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Meanwhile, some states that offer the online refund status update have incurred the wrath of the public for suspending service because of outages or page maintenance. In one Northwest state, a revenue clerk said they were berated by a few callers because the website wouldn’t load in a particular Internet browser.
“I feel their pain,” said Waterbury. “If the site’s down, phone calls are coming in, and the people that are answering the questions are also the ones that are responsible for fixing the site. So something suffers, because they can’t do both!”
There’s a lot of demand on Web services in Mississippi, Waterbury added, as 90 percent of all tax payers use e-file.
For his part, Robinson said things aren’t that heated in Utah.
“We get that rarely,” Robinson said. “We’re telling our electronic filers that it’ll be two to five weeks before they get their refund, so the expectations are set early. The people more likely to get frustrated are the paper filers. That can be up to three months [for the return to process].”
In Mississippi, Waterbury reported that many people want more information than the state can give them.
“We have to protect privacy,” she added. “We can’t tell them if their refund is on step two of 18, and I think they want to know that. And we want to be able to tell them, but we have to be careful.”
Waterbury also noted that, like many states, fraud is following the e-filers. She said a big reason the state is limiting specific information provided on the site is to help limit the cases of people filing fraudulent returns, then disappearing after the direct deposit is issued.
“This is electronic fraud, and it’s different because of the speed and lack of paper trail,” Waterbury said. “We know it can be frustrating, but overall, it’s a great system and it’s getting people their money fast.”