Why tax refunds are taking so long to arrive
Dear Liz: You mentioned that people who file electronically and use direct deposit generally get their refunds much more quickly than those who file paper returns. That has always been true for me, but this year I filed in February and got a message that there was a problem but not to contact the IRS for 60 days. Then COVID-19 happened and the IRS basically shut down. Can you tell me when they will release my money?
Answer: No one knows. The IRS is still in the process of calling employees back to work and some operations centers won’t reopen until later this month.
As employees return, they’re confronting an almost incomprehensible backlog of paperwork and requests for help. Millions of paper returns are sitting in trailers, waiting to be input into the IRS’ computers, and no one has been available to process electronically filed returns that were flagged because of problems.
People who have already been waiting months may still have to wait several weeks more before they see their money or can even access someone who knows what’s happened to their returns. As a reminder, the IRS extended the tax filing deadline to July 15.
Dear Liz: I am a senior citizen who fell for the hype about reverse mortgages during a really hard time in my life. To this date I regret profoundly having sold my home to the devil! I never imagined that my debt would grow such as it has. My home is currently valued at $120,000 and my debt is $189,000. I was paid just $40,000 when I initiated the loan. Plus, the loan was sold to a company I don’t like. They charge fees for everything, which just adds to the debt, and I am totally unable to do anything about what they charge. Can I refinance this loan with another company?
Answer: A reverse mortgage technically can be refinanced, but you would need to have substantial equity in your home. Since that’s not the case, you’re stuck.
Many people don’t understand how a reverse mortgage balance can grow over time. Although reverse mortgages allow people 62 and older to convert home equity to cash, without requiring payments, any amount borrowed grows at the interest rate specified in the loan contract. People who tap their home equity early in retirement may find they don’t have any equity left later.
Although your debt exceeds your home’s value, neither you nor your heirs will be on the hook for the difference. The lender will have to accept the proceeds of the home’s sale when you die, sell or move out as payment in full.
Dear Liz: I read your column in which you talked about the Roth IRA and how withdrawals can be penalized if you’re younger than 59½ or the account is not 5 years old. But are there any exceptions? Can we withdraw from our Roth IRA and not pay any tax or penalty if we use the money to pay for our children’s college?
Answer: You can avoid the early withdrawal penalty, but you’ll owe taxes on any earnings you withdraw from a Roth IRA when you use the money for qualified higher education expenses.
To recap, you can always withdraw an amount equal to your total contributions to a Roth IRA without owing any taxes or penalties. You don’t even have to wait five years.
When you withdraw earnings, however, you can avoid taxes and penalties only if the account is at least 5 years old and you’re 59½ or older, or you’re taking the distribution because you’re totally and permanently disabled, you inherited the Roth IRA from the account owner or you’re using as much as $10,000 for a first-time home purchase.
If you don’t meet those qualifications, there are still ways to avoid the penalty if not the taxes.
Withdrawing money to pay qualified education expenses is one of those exceptions, as is paying medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income, withdrawing as much as $5,000 after the birth or adoption of a child, paying an IRS levy, taking a qualified reservist distribution if you’re a military reservist called to active duty or taking a series of substantially equal periodic payments.
Let’s say you’ve contributed $20,000 to a Roth that’s now worth $30,000. The first $20,000 you withdraw is tax- and penalty-free. The final $10,000 you withdraw would be taxable, but it would not face the 10% early withdrawal penalty if you used it for your children’s college tuition, fees, books, supplies or other qualified expenses.
Liz Weston, a Certified Financial Planner, is a personal finance columnist for NerdWallet. Questions may be sent to her at 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the “Contact” form at asklizweston.com.
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