KIOSBlue 2880x210.png
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

If you got inflation relief from your state, the IRS wants you to wait to file taxes

The IRS says people who got money from special rebates and payments from their states should wait to file tax returns if they're not sure if the money is taxable. The IRS headquarters building in Washington, D.C., is seen here on Jan. 10.
Mandel Ngan
/
AFP via Getty Images
The IRS says people who got money from special rebates and payments from their states should wait to file tax returns if they're not sure if the money is taxable. The IRS headquarters building in Washington, D.C., is seen here on Jan. 10.

We're two weeks into tax season, but the IRS is urging people in at least 19 states to hold off on filing their tax returns. The reason? The agency is still figuring out how to handle special tax refunds and other payments states issued in 2022.

Many of the payments have been dubbed inflation relief checks. But even on the basic level, they reflect a hodgepodge of rules and eligibility requirements.

Taxpayers from California to Maine now find themselves in this confusing situation, as the IRS works to apply its rules to a wide range of programs. The agency has promised to share clarification this week, "for as many states and taxpayers as possible."

Here's a quick rundown of where things stand:

What should taxpayers do right now?

The rules involved "are complex," the IRS said — and so is its advice.

The IRS says people should wait to file tax returns if they're not sure if the money they got from states is taxable at the federal level.

But at the same time, the agency suggests people who have already completed their federal tax return might not need to worry about it, stating, "We also do not recommend amending a previously filed 2022 return."

The IRS did not respond to NPR emails on Wednesday seeking clarification of the rules, what taxpayers should do, and when it would issue guidance.

How do these state programs work?

People in many states got checks or direct deposits without even having to apply, through broad stimulus or inflation relief programs. Some programs set income limits, while others sent money to anyone in the state who filed their taxes on time in the previous year.

Some states, like Illinois, issued tax rebates tied to criteria such as payment of property tax. And others, like Florida and Rhode Island, singled out households with dependent children.

Which states are affected by the tax-season limbo?

The IRS did not list all of the states where it's looking at "questions involving special tax refunds or payments" from the past year.

There are differing reports of which states' programs might fall under the IRS review. The Associated Press says 19 states are in question, and Forbes agrees with that figure. But the financial advice site Ramsey Solutions lists additional states, such as New York and Pennsylvania. Marketwatch puts the number at around 20.

The IRS says it's working with tax officials in those states to determine how taxpayers who live there should handle the payments on their returns.

Why did states give out this money?

Many of the special programs were spurred by a rare confluence: right as consumers were hit with sharp rises in inflation, many states were seeing record budget surpluses from increases in tax revenues, federal pandemic aid and other sources.

In some cases, the payments were small, as low as $50-$75, meaning they're not likely to make a big impact on a tax return. But many states tacked on hundreds of dollars for families with multiple dependent children. In California and Colorado, taxpayers saw checks that range up to and over $1,000, and a few other states weren't far behind.

What have states been saying about taxes?

In many cases, state officials have assured taxpayers the stimulus or relief money wouldn't be taxable under state law. But taken as a whole, that advice is complex, much like the IRS guidance.

Delaware, for instance, says that its rebate "is not subject to State of Delaware income tax," while adding that individual tax situations may differ.

Virginia's FAQ page on its rebate says taxpayers who itemized their deductions might need to report the rebate — up to $500 for joint filers — on their federal return.

Idaho leaves it more open-ended: "Rebates are handled exactly like regular refunds; they're not taxable to Idaho. However, they might be taxable on the federal level."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.