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Future tax refunds may be delayed due to new budget

President Donald Trump's new budget might subject your tax refund to another level of scrutiny before you receive it.

The president released his budget Monday for fiscal 2019, proposing $11.1 billion for the Internal Revenue Service, including $2.3 billion for tax filing and compliance applications and $110 million to modernize the agency's computer systems.

"The real question is whether the base level of funding will be sufficient for the IRS to do its job promptly," said Matthew Gardner, senior fellow at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

"The IRS as an institution has been underfunded for years, and this has diminished its capacity to enforce the laws."

Here are the key initiatives the White House has for the IRS, based on the budget.

Error correction

Trump's budget also includes a handful of proposals to strengthen its enforcement efforts, which may place an obstacle between you and your tax refund in future years.

For instance, the IRS would have the authority to "correct more errors on tax returns before refunds are issued," according to budget language.

"If this new provision isn't something the IRS can keep up with, there can be consequences in terms of delayed refunds for taxpayers," said Gardner.

How exactly the agency will scrutinize filers' returns isn't detailed in the budget, but the White House said this move "would keep refunds from being issued to taxpayers who are not eligible."

This proposed change would reduce the federal deficit by $305 million between 2019 and 2023, according to the budget proposal.

This isn't the first time an administration has proposed strengthening the agency's ability to fix mistakes on returns.

The Obama administration sought to expand IRS authority to correct errors on returns in its fiscal 2017 budget.

For now, the IRS has "math error authority," meaning that it can take steps to fix mistakes in your arithmetic as you prepare your return. By expanding this authority, the IRS can address erroneous tax credit claims and avoid improper payments.

This could also help the agency avoid the cost and labor of an audit, said Mark Mazur, director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

Claiming credits

The White House has also proposed requiring a valid Social Security number in order for filers to claim the child tax credit and earned income tax credit.

The child tax credit is now $2,000 per qualifying child, double the amount under the old framework. It begins to phase out for taxpayers who are married and filing jointly with adjusted gross income of $400,000 ($200,000 for singles).

Meanwhile, the amount of earned income tax credit a filer can claim depends on that person's earned and adjusted gross income, as well as the number of qualifying children in a given household.

For the 2018 tax year, the maximum amount of credit a family can claim for three or more qualifying children is $6,444. That number is as low as $520 for filers with no kids.

If you think the requirement for a Social Security number sounds familiar, you're right: A similar concept was proposed by House Republicans as part of the tax overhaul.

Certain workers aren't eligible for Social Security numbers, but may use individual taxpayer identification numbers or ITINs in order to file their tax returns. Those filers include U.S. resident aliens, among others.

"It seems sensible that if we require people to pay income taxes with an ITIN, we should allow them access to family oriented tax credits with the same ITIN," said Gardner.

"That these folks have to pay income taxes and still can't get tax credits creates a new set of punitive income tax rules for families who have only ITINs," he said.

Tax prep oversight

Finally, the budget called for the IRS to sharpen its oversight of paid tax preparers. This provision is another holdover from the Obama administration's fiscal 2017 budget.

"Ensuring that these preparers understand the tax code would help taxpayers get higher quality service and prevent unscrupuluous tax preparers from exploiting the system and vulnerable taxpayers," the White House said in its budget.

"Regulating tax preparers and correcting errors is good tax administration," said Mazur. "And to the extent the IRS gets a new commissioner, if the Republican Congress and administration want that person to be successful at their job, they'll have to give that person the tools they need."

The president's proposal is subject to approval by Congress and is likely to be modified by legislators.

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