Fees over refunds to be repaid

The Georgia Department of Revenue announced Wednesday it will pay overdraft charges caused by the state's withdrawal of refunds it had put into taxpayer accounts.

The department wired refunds to 30,000 taxpayers' bank accounts Jan. 20, but moments later, the staff noticed a computer error and stopped the transfers. The staff thought it had stopped the payments before they reached the banks and didn't realize the problem.

The agency corrected its software and began reissuing the refunds, but not before people around the state began complaining Monday about bounced checks and overdrafts.

Gov. Nathan Deal said he is trying to make amends.

"Let me apologize," he told reporters after a luncheon speech. "Certainly we don't want to inconvenience anyone, and it is regrettable that things of this type happen. But we do live in an age in which computers sometimes don't quite get programmed as they should."

Revenue Commissioner Doug MacGinnitie held a news conference in his office across town at the same time Deal was addressing reporters. MacGinnitie said the department should have the reprocessed refunds deposited into taxpayers' accounts within days.

"We are working with our bank partners to waive any fees that people incurred because of insufficient-fund notices because of the withdrawal of those funds," he said.

Most banks, though, seem willing to work with their customers.

"We're going to honor the state's request and refund the bank charges that occurred," said Jay Lawrence, a spokesman for Wells Fargo.

Lawrence said customers don't have to bring a form letter from the state when they visit a bank branch to straighten out overdraft fees. Anyone who is home-bound or otherwise can't make it to a branch can call customer service and talk with a bank representative.

Richard Fairey, the regional president of Regions Bank, said the bank will work on a case-by-case basis with customers to iron out overdraft fees.

"It's not the customer's fault, by any means," Fairey said. "They shouldn't be burdened or hampered by that."

Georgia Bank & Trust Chief Executive Officer Dan Blanton said his bank is working one on one with customers to clear overdraft fees. Bounced checks will have to be worked out with the merchants, though, said Blanton.

Ora Parrish, of Bank of America, did not provide a statement Wednesday.

If a bank doesn't waive the fee, the department will pay it. Taxpayers need to file a form on the department's Web site, https://etax.dor.ga.gov, or call (877) 423-6711.

MacGinnitie and Deal have been in office only two weeks, but they promised to handle the matter.

"We are working hard to make sure that this problem does not happen again and that we understand how it happened so we can do that," MacGinnitie said.

Deal promised a military-style "after-action report" into the causes and the response, but said things could have been worse.

"Fortunately, it was not of as large a magnitude as you sometimes see in errors of this sort," the governor said. "It was big enough. We are going to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Overdraft Reimbursement