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WASHINGTON, DC — The IRS is delaying tax refunds for more than 40 million low-income families as the agency steps up efforts to fight identity theft and fraud.

The delays will affect families claiming the earned income tax credit and the additional child tax credit. The tax breaks are geared to benefit the working poor, and many families claim both.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen says the agency is sensitive to the fact that many of these taxpayers need their refunds to pay bills or settle debts.

But, he noted, a new federal law requires the IRS to delay the refunds in an effort to fight fraud.

The IRS will start releasing the refunds Feb. 15. Koskinen said processing times will delay most of them until the end of February.