THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Uncle Sam owes you money

And on a new website actors Larry Hagman and Martin Sheen suggest donating it to a good cause

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Leonard Wiener
Globe Correspondent / March 11, 2007

Is that new federal telephone tax refund burning a hole in your pocket?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu as well as Martin Sheen, Larry Hagman, and Ed Begley Jr. have an idea. Donate it.

They're stars at a new website refundsforgood.org that's tapping into the rebates as a fund-raising ploy.

"We hope to inspire people to use this newfound money to help make the world a better place," says Robert Freling, of Solar Electric Light Fund, which installs solar-powered electric systems in developing countries and along with Physicians for Social Responsibility and PeaceJam make up the site.

Refunds For Good is the brainchild of Michael Swartz of Stamford, Conn., a 3-D animator and graphics designer, and Jonathan Gorham of Woodbridge, Conn., who calls himself a social entrepreneur.

This year almost every taxpayer is eligible for the rebate as part of their 2006 federal income tax refund or used to reduce any tax owed.

The rebate partly compensates for a long-distance excise tax the government was invalidly collecting. Individual taxpayers can expect $30 to $60 when taking a standard deduction, or possibly more if they calculate actual tax paid.

Donating at least part of a tax refund to charity isn't a new idea. A survey by online tax preparation firm Taxsoftware.com found that 27 percent of taxpayers said they planned to do that this year. But Refunds for Good is zeroing on the $10 billion telephone tax rebate and encouraging people to direct it toward good works.

The IRS doesn't care what you do with the rebate, says IRS spokesperson Peggy Riley, but the agency won't do a direct deposit to a charity. You'll have to make the donation yourself.

What the IRS does care about are returns it is investigating for claiming too much for the phone rebate. It also cares about filers who haven't taken the credit at all, including many returns done by paid preparers.

The tax pros say don't wrongly assume they don't know about the rebate, says Cindy Hockenberry, of the 18,000-member National Association of Tax Professionals. Most preparers use software with "no way to accidentally forget about it," she says. Neither Hockenberry nor the IRS could fully explain why so many returns aren't claiming the refund.

No dispute: A donated rebate to any charity can be a tax deduction on next season's return.

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