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Where Is My Tax Refund?

Waiting patiently for your federal tax refund? Here’s what you need to know to anticipate when your tax refund will arrive—and what to do if it doesn’t. 

By Megan Doyle | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor

6 Min Read | July 13, 2020 in Life

 

At-A-Glance

The IRS says 9 in 10 refunds are issued in less than 21 calendar days.

But several factors can affect when to expect your refund, like how you file and what tax credits you apply for.

The fastest way to get your refund is to e-file and use direct deposit.

You’ve filed your federal taxes. What’s next? If you didn’t owe taxes or break even, you’re probably wondering when you can expect your tax refund. The good news is that the IRS offers an online tool—and a mobile app—to help you get a good idea of when those bonus bucks will be available for deposit. But the actual day your federal tax refund ends up in your bank account (or mailbox) depends on a number of factors, like how you filed and the tax credits you applied for. 

 

Here’s what you need to know to determine when to expect your federal tax refund, and how you can track it.

 

When Can I Expect My Federal Tax Refund?

According to the IRS, 90% of refunds are issued within three weeks.1 But it can sometimes take up to eight weeks. That’s quite a large range, so what gives? A few factors can affect how long it actually takes for you to get your federal tax refund: 

 

Filing method. The IRS says e-filing with direct deposit is the best and fastest way to get your tax refund.2 If you file a paper return, someone at the IRS needs to enter your information into an electronic system before your tax return—and refund—can be processed. Then, the refund must be mailed to you. E-filing with direct deposit removes those steps, cutting down on processing time. 

 

Certain tax credits. By law, the IRS cannot issue refunds before mid-February for tax returns that claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC), which is the refundable portion of the Child Tax Credit.3 This applies to the entire refund, even the portion not associated with these credits. The IRS says if you claim either of those two tax credits, you can expect a refund by direct deposit into your account by the first week of March—assuming you filed at the beginning of tax season and there are no other issues with your tax return.4

 

Weekends and holidays. Don’t forget that many banks and financial institutions don’t process payments on weekends or holidays, and if you’re getting your refund mailed to you, mail isn’t delivered on federal holidays. Weekends and holidays like Presidents’ Day can add a few extra days.

 

Although most taxpayers get their refunds within a few weeks, the IRS cautions not to count on getting your refund by a certain date—for example, if you need it to make a major purchase or pay a big bill. It’s always possible your tax return will require more review.5

 

Will My Tax Refund Be Delayed?

Some tax returns take longer to process than others, not only because of the two tax credits we just discussed. Here are a few more reasons the IRS says may cause a delay in your tax refund:6    
 

  • Your return had errors, or was incomplete    
  • You are a victim of tax fraud or identity theft
  • Your return includes Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation, which could take up to 14 weeks to process (Note: Form 8379 does not have to do with physical injuries, but refers to a situation in which a joint refund is seized because one spouse owes a debt like taxes or child support, even if the other spouse was expected to get a refund. The “injured” or negatively affected spouse can file Form 8379 to receive their portion of their joint tax refund)7
  • Your return needs further review in general, such as if you’re being audited8


The IRS will contact you if they need any more information to process your tax return.

 

How Do I Track My Tax Refund?

If you’re wondering where your refund is, there are a few ways you can check its status. 

 

The IRS’ online tools. The fastest and easiest way to track your federal tax refund is to use the IRS’ “Where’s My Refund” tool or the IRS2Go mobile app, according to the IRS.9 These tools will tell you when your return is received, approved, and when your tax refund is sent. To use either of the IRS’ tracking tools, you’ll need your Social Security number, filing status, and exact refund amount. If you e-filed, you can start checking your status with these tools 24 hours after filing. But it’ll take about four weeks before you can check the status of a mailed return.10

 

Through your e-filing service. If you e-filed your return, the tax preparation website you used will likely alert you (via email or status update) when your return is received, approved, and your tax refund is sent. 

 

Call the IRS. You can call the IRS, but the government notes that you might be on hold for a while before you get to speak to a representative.11 And IRS representatives can only research the status of your refund if it’s been 21 days or more since you filed electronically or more than six weeks since you mailed your paper return. If you choose to call the IRS, you should be ready to provide personal information like your Social Security number, birth date, and filing status. 

 

If you’re expecting an amended tax return, you can use the IRS’ “Where’s My Amended Return?” tool.12

 

What Do I Do if I Haven’t Received My Refund?

If you haven’t received your tax refund even though it’s been long enough since you filed your return, your best bet is to contact the IRS to figure out what could have happened. Here are a few possible scenarios:13

 

For mailed refunds:     

  • If you moved and didn’t notify the IRS, the refund check was probably mailed to your last known address and may have been returned to the IRS.14     
  • It could have been lost or stolen. 

For direct deposit refunds:     

  • The bank account information was incorrect.      
  • You’re a victim of tax return preparer fraud (the IRS notes that, while unusual, some people you hire to help with your taxes may try to steal your refund).

 

What About My State Tax Refund?

If you live in a state that requires you to file a state tax return, you can check the status of your refund by going to your state’s revenue or taxation website. From there you can find out the specific instructions for your state.

 

 

 

The Takeaway

After you file your taxes, exactly when you’ll get your federal tax refund depends on a few factors, but most people will get their refund in three weeks or less. You can use the IRS’ mobile app or “Where’s My Refund?” tool to check the status of your tax refund online.

Megan Doyle

Megan Doyle is a business technology writer and researcher whose work focuses on financial services and cross-cultural diversity and inclusion.

 

All Credit Intel content is written by freelance authors and commissioned and paid for by American Express. 

The material made available for you on this website, Credit Intel, is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax or financial advice. If you have questions, please consult your own professional legal, tax and financial advisors.