Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: New Medicare Advantage benefits may be hard to find and to qualify for. Also in the news: 4 questions to ask before refinancing your mortgage, why college aid requests have decreased, and what to do if you haven’t filed your taxes in years.

New Medicare Advantage Benefits May Be Hard to Find — and Qualify For
In 2019, expanded benefits for Medicare Advantage were enabled, but so far few providers offer them.

The Property Line: 4 Questions to Ask Before Refinancing
Would you benefit from refinancing? Answer these four questions to decide.

Why Are Fewer Students Seeking College Aid? They’re Not Going
Undergrad enrollment is down 4%.

What to Do If You Haven’t Filed Your Taxes in Years
You can’t dodge the IRS forever.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How hotel prices changed in 2020 vs. 2019. Also in the news: A new episode of the SmartMoney Podcast on emergency loans and the perks of buying local, what to know about EFTs and adding them to your portfolio, and what to do if you receive an unpaid notice from the IRS.

Analysis: How Have Hotel Prices Changed in 2020 vs. 2019?
Hotel prices have dipped significantly.

Smart Money Podcast: Buying Local, and Emergency Loans
How to help local businesses hit hard by the pandemic.

What are ETFs and why you should consider them for your portfolio
Many investments wrapped in a single package.

What to Do if You Receive an Unpaid Notice From the IRS
Don’t panic.

Q&A: Where’s that tax refund?

Dear Liz: Like the writer in a recent column, I received a stimulus check for my late mother and dutifully mailed the IRS a check as the agency requested on May 6. The check finally cleared on Aug. 12. So, yes, the IRS will absolutely eventually cash it. However, I’m still waiting for the federal tax refund for my mother’s final tax return, which I mailed on April 20. I figure if it took them over three months to just cash a check, it’ll be at least a couple more months, if not longer, to process the return.

Answer: You’re probably right, and — as the previous column emphasized — the IRS does not need calls from people about non-urgent matters as the agency slowly works through its massive backlog. If you can wait to talk to the IRS, in other words, you should.

Q&A: IRS pays interest on late refunds

Dear Liz: I filed my return electronically with direct deposit. I have yet to receive my refund or that stimulus relief check. We have to pay interest on any late tax payment. Will the IRS pay interest on late refunds?

Answer: The IRS has said it will pay interest on late refunds if the return was filed by July 15, the extended tax deadline. The interest “will generally be paid from April 15, 2020, until the date of the refund,” the IRS says on its site. Don’t expect to get rich: The interest rate for the second quarter, which ended June 30, is 5% a year, while the interest rate for the third quarter, which ends Sept. 30, is 3% a year.

Q&A: The case for filing a tax return

Dear Liz: A couple on Social Security who hadn’t received their stimulus payments wrote that they “do not make enough income to file tax returns.” It might be worthwhile to let your readers know that, even if one’s income is below the amount where they must file a tax return, they nevertheless may file a tax return. I volunteer at a site where we do free tax preparation, and we encourage filing even when not required. It can help identify or potentially prevent identity theft, and it provides documentation of tax status that may be helpful in the future.

Answer: Thanks for that tip. People receiving Social Security weren’t required to file tax returns to receive their stimulus payments of up to $1,200 each, but as you noted there can be other advantages to filing even when it’s not necessary.

Most stimulus payments have been delivered at this point, although a congressional committee estimated 30 million to 35 million had not been sent. If you got a letter saying your payment had been sent, but you haven’t received the money, you can ask the IRS to trace your payment by calling (800) 919-9835.

Q&A: Coronavirus stimulus checks, tax refunds and the IRS’ backlog hell

Dear Liz: I’m a CPA. I sent out your recent column about IRS backlogs to two clients just this morning. It’s nice to have a published article backing up what I’ve unfortunately been having to tell clients for a few weeks now.

Answer: Pandemic-related shutdowns, years of congressional budget cuts and the effort required to push out more than 159 million stimulus checks have left the IRS facing a massive backlog. National Taxpayer Advocate Erin Collins estimated that 4.7 million unopened paper tax returns had accumulated as of mid-May. Taxpayers who filed paper returns and are due a refund may be in for “a long wait,” Collins told Congress last month. Many lower-income people and those who lost jobs are in dire need of the money, but it is unclear when they will get it.

Q&A: Still no coronavirus stimulus check? You’re not alone

Dear Liz: Both my wife and I are on Social Security retirement benefits. We were told we had to do nothing to get our stimulus payment even though we don’t file tax returns. We’ve made two calls to the IRS and gotten no suggestions from them.

Answer: If your Social Security payments are direct deposited, your relief payments should have been sent to that bank account. If you don’t have direct deposit, your payments should have been mailed. You (or a computer-savvy friend) can check to see the status of your payment at the “Get My Payment” section of the IRS.gov website.

If your payment isn’t on the way or there’s another problem, you should reach out to the IRS. It’s not clear from your statement — “no suggestions from them” — if in your previous attempts you actually reached a human being or just a recording. Please make sure you’re calling the right number because the stimulus payment number — (800) 919-9835 — is different from the general taxpayer hotline. You may have to be patient because hold times can be long.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Some taxpayers face a desperate wait for refunds. Also in the news: Are variable rate student loans worth the risk, 6 ways your investments can fund racial justice, and why your federal student loan servicer may be changing.

Some taxpayers face a desperate wait for refunds
IRS delays are hurting struggling families.

Even Near 1%, Are Variable Rate Student Loans Worth the Risk?
Your rate could change dramatically in the future.

6 Ways Your Investments Can Fund Racial Justice
Money makes change sustainable.

Your Federal Student Loan Servicer May Be Changing
Say goodbye to NelNet.

Some taxpayers face a desperate wait for refunds

As a 58-year-old woman on disability, Robin Short of Wallingford, Connecticut, relies on her tax refund to catch up on bills. She filed her return electronically in February, opting for direct deposit so she could get her $773 refund quickly.

She’s still waiting, as are millions of others. In my latest for the Associated Press, how the IRS is slowly resuming operations after pandemic-related lockdowns, but delayed refunds are devastating some people’s finances.

Q&A: The IRS is finally staffing up. Here’s how to get your coronavirus stimulus money

Dear Liz: We do not make enough income to file tax returns, so we used the IRS site to apply for our economic stimulus payment ($1,700 for one adult and one teenage child). We received a response email stating our information was received successfully by the IRS several weeks ago. We included our bank deposit information for a fast direct deposit but the money has not arrived and we hear that the government ran out of money. We are desperate. What can we do or who can we speak with about this delay?

Answer: The government did not run out of money, and at a minimum you should be able to file a tax return next year to get your stimulus payment as a refundable credit. Since you need the money now, though, you should follow up with the IRS.

The IRS has reopened the general taxpayer helpline that was shuttered because of the coronavirus pandemic, but it has also added thousands of phone reps to a special hotline to deal with stimulus payment problems: (800) 919-9835. That’s the number you should call to inquire about your payment.

(Previous columns have dealt with people’s refunds being held up because the IRS didn’t have enough workers to open its mail. Tax processing centers are reopening, but it will take awhile to work through the backlog. You can check the status of a refund through the “Where’s My Refund?” tool on the IRS site or by calling (800) 829-1954.)