Nearly 17,000 Alaskan taxpayers failed to take advantage of a one-time "luxury" tax refund when they filed their federal income tax returns this year.
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During a recent three-week period in February, 31.9 percent of the tax returns from Alaskan taxpayers failed to request the "Telephone Excise Tax Refund," government payback of a tax once collected on long-distance phone calls.
The total available for the state amounted to at least $510,000, said IRS officials.
Alaskan taxpayers are not alone. They are failing to request the tax refund at roughly the same rate as most Americans, which means that more than 10 million taxpayers have missed out so far.
The refund became available when the federal government stopped collecting the tax in August 2006 following several federal court decisions.
At the time, the court ruled that the tax - which was imposed in 1998 as a "luxury" tax - no longer applied to long-distance service as it was now billed. Federal officials authorized a one-time refund on service billed from March 2003 to July 2006.
Internal Revenue Service: www.irs.gov
Here's how it works:
To make the refund easier to determine, an optional standard refund amount was established ranging from $30 to $60, based on personal exemptions. This eliminates the need to locate old phone bills.
If taxpayers do have old phone bills and other records, they can request the actual amount of excise tax paid. It does not apply to local calls.
Nearly half the returns that failed to claim the refund were completed by a tax preparer, IRS officials said.
"We are surprised how many tax preparers are overlooking the telephone tax refund," said IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson in a prepared statement. "We want all taxpayers entitled to this refund to get it, whether they are using a tax preparer or doing the return themselves."
Through Feb. 16, the average refund for the American taxpayer was $2,733, which is nearly $100 more than the previous year.
Brittany Retherford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.