Use H&R Block? Your return might be delayed

8:36 PM, Mar 12, 2013   |    comments
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By John Waggoner, USA TODAY

Up to 600,000 tax returns filed by H&R Block could be delayed by up to six weeks, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

The problem: Form 8863, which you must fill out to get the student tax credit. The credit is equal to 100% of the first $2,000 of qualified expenses and 25% of expenses over $2,000. Maximum is $2,500.

In previous years, preparers could leave a field blank to indicate "no." This year, they have to enter "n." If they didn't, the forms get delayed. H&R Block says those who filed between Feb. 14 and Feb. 22, 2013, were affected.

About 10% of the 6.6 million returns filed with form 8863 are affected, the IRS says. The government tax agency is helping to reduce wait time, according to MarketWatch.com.

"For those clients who received the IRS notice regarding form 8863 that said it would take six to eight weeks to receive a refund after this issue was resolved, we are assured it will not take that long," H&R Block said in a statement on its Facebook page. "We continue to work with the IRS, and as we have more specifics on timing and any other updated information, we will share it with our clients."

H&R Block clients have started a page of their own, called "Club 8863," which has earned 2,950 "likes."

When asked if it was contemplating rebates to affected customers, an H&R Block spokesman said only, "Right now we are resolutely focused on ensuring the returns are processed on behalf of our clients."

Students and their families are probably quite eager to get their credits, which are far more valuable than deductions. Unlike deductions, which reduce the amount of income you pay taxes on, tax credits reduce your taxes dollar for dollar. For someone in the 25% tax bracket, a $1,000 deduction would reduce your taxes by $250; a $1,000 tax credit would reduce your taxes by $1,000.

The American Opportunity Tax Credit, the official name for the student tax credit, is available to full-time undergraduate students. The full credit is available to families that earn up to $160,000 a year; it's phased out for those that earn $160,000 to $180,000. It's not available to families earning more than $180,000. (For single filers and heads of household, the credit starts disappearing at $80,000 and vanishes at $90,000.)

H&R Block notes that delaying return processing may cause additional headaches for those completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

If your return has not yet been processed by the IRS, you can manually enter the tax return data on the application. You can then return to the online FAFSA to update the information when your return has been processed.

Those who filed form 8863 have already had to wait to file, thanks to budget bickering in Congress. Resolution of the so-called fiscal cliff, a mix of tax hikes and budget cuts that could have sent the economy reeling, delayed the processing of tax returns. The IRS didn't accept returns with form 8836 until Feb. 14.

The Kansas City Business Journal reported that the company prepared 22.2 million tax returns through April 18 of 2012, a 4.5% year-over-year gain.

Shares of the company, based in Kansas City, rose 1.4% Tuesday to $27.

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