Anxious To Get Your Tax Refund? IRS Says 'Go Get Another Job'

Emily is a law student, and she spent last summer doing lawyer-type work and earning lawyer-type money. She mistakenly set up her withholding as if she were earning that much money year-round, though, so the government owes her a pretty sweet refund now that she’s returned to the poor, ascetic life of a student. She even filed her taxes super early so she can get that money back. Only the IRS has flagged her for extra-special review, delaying her refund, and no one she can get in touch with seems to care. “You should just get another job,” one helpful representative told her.

I need help with this and I don’t know who else to contact!

After filing my taxes online and expecting a BIG (Over $5000: I paid taxes as though I was making a BigLaw salary, but only for 3 months, and stupidly didn’t specify my withholding) refund, and then going through the incredible run-around of the IRS’s “Where’s My Refund?” site, I got a letter in the mail from the IRS notifying me that they were “holding [my] refund until we complete a thorough review of your return.”

The letter also informed me that

1. I had permission to call the IRS in 60 days if no information was requested of me by then, and that they “may” send me my refund, “if applicable.”

2. They informed that that they were reserving the right to disclose my name to unknown third parties and also to disclose “information necessary” to “obtain or verify the information we are seeking.” So far all very sub rosa.

This seemed fishy to me, as I paid my very simple taxes meticulously this year. It also struck me as VERY worrying, as I am a law student (alas, not tax law) and need that money desperately to pay for my Bar exam and living expenses until I start my job in October.

So I called the toll-free number provided. Big mistake.

I spoke to a woman whose ID number was [redacted]. She told me that I had been randomly chosen for this type of enhanced screening.

I asked, “Why?”

She replied, “Because we can.”

I was annoyed at her flip little answer, but tried to get some more information about what I could do to expedite the process.

Some sample answers I was given:

“We have your money now. You should just forget about it.”

“This can take any time between 2 weeks and two years.”

“That 60 day time frame? After that we gonna send you another 60-day letter.”

“You should just get another job.”

“If you are about to be evicted or go on food stamps, you can send some documentation and we may throw you a few hundred dollars.”

And the kicker: when I asked, “Do people always get their refunds?” She replied, “Not really. When we get your money we tend to keep it. It’s these tough economic times what’s making you worry.”

Does anybody know who I should contact in a situation like this? A tax advocate? A lawyer? I am livid with the lack of information and with the general attitude that it’s all right to not give someone their tax refund for 2 years, to disclose private information to unknown third parties, and to tell that person that instead of fighting to get the money to which they are legally entitled, they should “get another job.”

Tax-minded Consumerist readers, help me!

Start by checking at your law school: future tax lawyers in training may have a clinic set up for just this kind of problem. If that’s not an option, someone from the Taxpayer Advocate Service should be able to help, or at least explain the situation while being less of a jerk than that representative you spoke to. (Who should, by the way, be reported by name and number to someone in charge.) Find the person who does that in your state at this site.