WASHINGTON -- Almost 300,000 tax rebate checks worth an average of $322 apiece are languishing at the Internal Revenue Service, waiting for taxpayers to claim them. Checks were returned undelivered from all 50 states and the territories of Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
The checks from this year's big tax cut came back to the IRS in most cases because they could not be mailed to the proper taxpayer. That occurs commonly when taxpayers move to a new address or change last names, frequently due to marriage.
IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti said Tuesday that taxpayers who do not claim their checks by Dec. 5 will have to wait for the money until they file their 2001 income tax returns next year.
"All we need is a good address," Rossotti said. "As soon as we get the correct address, we'll send the check on its way."
$95 million on hold
The 295,000 rebate checks are worth about $95 million. They represent only a fraction of 1 percent of the 85 million rebate checks mailed out as part of the 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut signed into law in June by President Bush.
The checks of up to $300 for individuals, $500 for heads of households and $600 for married couples represented this year's payment for a new 10 percent income tax bracket created by the law.
Congress may direct the IRS to mail out a second batch of checks as part of pending legislation intended to stimulate the economy. If approved, those checks would most likely go to people whose incomes were too low to qualify for the first round and those who didn't get the full amount initially.
Some of the undelivered rebate checks appeared intended for American soldiers.
The ZIP code with the most returned refund checks -- 379 -- was at Camp Pendelton in California. The IRS also listed 188 returned checks from the Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune, N.C., 175 from Fort Campbell Army base in Kentucky and 156 from Fort Hood, Texas.
California had the most returned checks, at 38,929, followed by Texas with 25,710, Florida with 24,975 and New York with 15,734. There are more than 21,000 cities on the list, with Chicago having the most returned checks at 4,401.
The IRS interprets a 1950s-era federal law as prohibiting the agency from posting a list of names on its Internet site. The list can be posted privately.
Some lawmakers say it is time for Congress to permit the IRS to put these names out.
"We must continue our efforts to make it easier to reunite the taxpayers with their long-lost tax refunds," said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, a member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.
Aside from the Internet, people who believe they are due a check can call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. Taxpayers can also notify the IRS about a new address by filing Form 8822, which can be downloaded from the agency's Internet Web site.
Those who don't claim their rebate check will have one more chance to get the money by claiming it on their 2001 income tax returns, which are due in April. The instructions will include worksheets for taxpayers to figure out if they are due a rebate.
The IRS also has 95,500 regular tax refunds worth $88.5 million on hand from this year and previous years that have not been delivered. Those refunds are worth an average of $927 each, Rossotti said.
The IRS says the best way for taxpayers to ensure they receive payments is to have them deposited directly in a bank account -- although that option wasn't available for the rebate checks.