How to Calculate How Much You Get Back From Income Tax

  Reviewed by: Ryan Cockerham, CISI Capital Markets and Corporate Finance      Updated November 21, 2018
  Written by: LD Withaar

If more taxes were withheld from your pay than you owe, you’ll have a refund coming. If less was withheld, you’ll owe the IRS. You can calculate the amount of your refund or tax bill by subtracting what you paid from what you owe. If the result is a positive number, that’s your refund. If it’s a negative number, that’s your bill. A tax calculator may be able to give you a more accurate answer by factoring in the some of the details of your particular situation.

Tips

  • A tax calculator is a great tool for getting an idea of what your income tax refund will be. You can use an online tax calculator to closely approximate your refund, and then complete your return to receive the actual amount.

They’re easy to find online. Some are called calculators, some are called estimators. It’s best to think of all of them as tax refund estimators. Until you actually do your taxes, you won’t know the exact amount of your refund. Even then, you should not count on every penny. A number of things could affect any refund you have coming. Among them, mathematical errors and offsets. Offsets occur when the IRS keeps all or part of your refund to pay past due taxes, collect unpaid child support or pay down federal student loans in default.

What Tax Calculators Can’t Do

Tax calculators cannot factor in every detail of what your completed return will look like. This is particularly true if you itemize deductions. That said, the more information an online tax refund calculator requires, the more accurate it will probably be. One that only asks for your filing status, number of exemptions and income is not going to be as accurate as one that requires additional information like the number of dependents you have, whether you’re legally blind or disabled and if you have health care coverage.

Track Your 2018 Refund

After figuring out how much of an income tax refund you have coming, the next thing most people want to know is when will I get it? The IRS says that your best bet for gauging when you might receive your 2018 refund is to use their online or mobile app. You can use the online app called Where’s My Refund? to check on the status of your return within 24 hours after e-filing it or four weeks after mailing it. The Where’s My Refund? app will give you one of three responses: return received, refund approved or refund sent. The mobile app, IRS2Go, will give you the same information. You can also use it to pay your tax bill. Both apps only have information on refunds for original, current year filings. They do not have information on amended or past years’ filings.

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Calculate Your 2017 Refund

Tax calculators for past years are available. So if you haven’t yet filed for 2017 or, for that matter, 2016, you’ll be able to find a calculator online for those years and earlier years. The IRS issued nine out of 10 refunds for 2017 tax year returns in less than 21 days. However, if you’re filing now for 2017, any income tax refund you have coming will probably take longer.

About the Author

LeDona Withaar has over 20 years’ experience as a securities industry professional and finance manager. She was an auditor for the National Association of Securities Dealers, a compliance manager for UNX, Inc. and a securities compliance specialist at Capital Group. She has an MBA from Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts and a BA from Mills College in Oakland, California. She has done volunteer work in corporate development for nonprofit organizations such as the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She currently owns and operates her own small business in addition to writing for business and financial publications such as Budgeting the Nest, Zacks and PocketSense.

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