FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
OK, it's probably a bad idea to try to claim a $30,000 refund for your telephone excise tax. But if you're a senior -- or anyone else who normally doesn't file an income tax return -- you should take advantage of a one-time-only phone refund for 2006.
It is easy money -- maybe too easy for the scam artists.
This tax season, most taxpayers can easily qualify for a standard telephone excise tax refund of $60 for a family of four or more, $50 for a family of three, $40 for a family of two or $30 for a single filer.
Just fill out one additional line on the 2006 income tax return to claim the standard refund based on the old excise tax on long-distance service. See line 71 on your 1040, line 9 on the 1040EZ or line 42 on the 1040A.
You do not have to itemize to get this refund.
Millions of seniors and others who aren't required to file tax returns will want to make sure they get their telephone tax refund by filing a special 1040EZ-T, says Luis D. Garcia, an IRS spokesman in Detroit.
"It's really super easy," Garcia said.
Early reports from the Internal Revenue Service, however, show that some people are skipping over this refund, filing it incorrectly or trying to scam the system.
In early returns filed this year, the IRS reported that more than one-third of early filers did not request the telephone tax refund.
Or some are making mistakes, such as filing a 1040EZ-T along with a 1040 return. Garcia said filing both could delay your refund.
The IRS warned that it is taking steps to prevent abuse.
This week, IRS Criminal Investigation special agents and IRS revenue agents conducted special site visits with tax preparers to prevent inflated requests.
Keep it legal
Check out these wrong numbers. The IRS reported some taxpayer requests of $30,000 for the telephone tax refunds.
Or some taxpayers added up entire phone bills for more than three years. That's not the deal. The IRS warned that taxpayers who request more of a refund than they are entitled to will have their refunds held and may be subject to an audit.
All this, of course, shouldn't discourage people from claiming the refund. Just don't ask for thousands of dollars when you're legitimately owed anywhere from $30 to $60.
You will have to do more paperwork and fill out Form 8913 -- if you do not want to apply for the standard refund but instead want to calculate the tax by finding up to 41 months of old phone records and tallying the 3% tax paid on long-distance and bundled service.
The refund is available to anyone who paid long-distance taxes on landline, cell phone or Voice Over Internet Protocol service. The refund applies to excise taxes paid from Feb. 28, 2003, to Aug. 1, 2006.
I actually looked at many of the old telephone bills for our house. The standard phone refund will work out better for us. Many tax experts also say the standard refund will be the simplest -- and often most generous -- break for many families.