If you’re waiting for a tax refund, that wait can seem like an eternity. Even if you file early in tax season, you’ll likely find you have to wait at least a couple of weeks to see that money in your bank account. But the IRS now makes it easier than ever to check on the progress of your tax return by providing a website specifically designed for that purpose. Once you’ve filed, you can begin watching that site for confirmation that your return has been received, approved and submitted for processing. It can help to first understand the full timeline, though, so you’ll have a rough idea of when you can expect your money.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
If you file electronically, you’ll receive a receipt confirmation from the IRS. After that point, you can monitor the status of your refund through the IRS Refund Status page.
How to Check if Tax Return Was Filed
Once you’ve filed your taxes, you’ll need to bookmark the IRS Refund Status page, which can be found at irs.gov/refunds. You’ll also see a link to the refund page on the main IRS site. To check your refund status, you’ll have to provide your Social Security number, your filing status and the exact amount of the refund you’re expecting. You won’t be able to check this site until 24 hours after you submit your return electronically, but the information updates every 24 hours, usually overnight. If you mail a paper return, you probably won’t see any data on the IRS Refund Status page for at least four weeks.
Before setting up its status page, the IRS updated taxpayers by phone on refund status. You can still call the IRS for these updates, but the most current information is provided on the refund status page. The IRS recommends only calling if it has been 21 days or more since you e-filed or six weeks or more since you mailed your return. If the IRS Refund Status page tells you that you need to contact the IRS, of course, you’ll need to call. Otherwise, the site is the best resource.
Confirming Your Filing
Even if you don’t expect a refund, you still likely want to know how to check if your taxes were filed. This starts when you actually click the “submit” button or place your return in the mail. You may think you’ve filed your return, only to later find out it never went through. Checking to ensure the IRS has received your return depends on the way you file your taxes. If you use a professional tax preparer, that professional will be able to verify whether the submission went through. In many cases, the IRS will confirm the return has been received in a matter of minutes. If you still are unsure, though, ask your tax preparer to provide written confirmation that your return is now with the IRS.
If you use tax preparation software like TurboTax or TaxAct, you should receive confirmation from the IRS in the form of an email. Your software provider should also offer a site where you can check the status of your return. For those filing by postal mail, though, confirming receipt can be a bit more complicated. After six weeks, you can call the IRS and ask for an update, but if you file later in the tax season, this can be a nail-biter. Unless you have a reason to file a paper-based return, you may want to consider e-filing using the IRS’s free service. If you have concerns about receipt, this service will give you the electronic confirmation you need within a matter of days.
IRS Predicted Turnaround Times
Before you start checking the IRS Refund Status page, it can help to understand how long you can expect to wait for your refund. According to the IRS, nine out of 10 refunds are issued within 21 days of a return being filed. This turnaround time doesn’t apply to the estimated 10 percent of taxpayers who mail their returns in since those take significantly longer to process.
But as you’re wondering how to find out if a tax return was filed, it’s important to know that some things can slow your refund down. In 2017, for instance, the IRS was under a mandate to not issue refunds for the Earned Income Tax Credit until mid-February. For those who filed in January, that meant a slightly longer wait than they might have expected otherwise. Since this can vary from year to year, the 21-day turnaround can easily change without taxpayers being aware of it.
Understanding the IRS Timeline
Before electronic filing became so popular, the IRS processed the majority of returns manually. This meant employing representatives whose sole responsibility was typing the information from paper-based forms into the computer. As paper-based returns come in, though, they’ve long been sorted by machines that have the ability to detect envelopes that contain checks. Those go to a separate area for processing, while basic returns are sent to employees who get the information into the system. The switch to e-filing has allowed the IRS to reallocate its resources to checking electronic returns for errors and approving them to go to the area for refund processing.
Today, representatives manually review each return for errors, correct any that can be easily fixed and approve returns for refunds. Once a return has been approved, it can then go to the refund processing center, where payment is remitted based on the method the taxpayer specified. If the taxpayer wants a paper-based check, it will need to be printed and mailed via the postal system. However, if the taxpayer is OK with a direct deposit, the funds can be transferred electronically, which is a much quicker process.
Refund Delays Due to Error
You may notice, as you’re checking the IRS Refund Status page, that you’re seeing a delay. Most often, if it’s taking longer than it should, there was an error on your tax return that couldn’t be easily cleared up. Even a small mistake could slow your refund down if someone needs to ask you for clarifying information. This is done through postal mail, so you’ll have to wait for a letter to be drafted and make its way through the U.S. postal system, then you’ll need to respond by either calling or mailing a reply back.
Before you start wondering how to find out if your taxes were filed, you should double-check and triple-check your return for mistakes. It’s especially important to make sure you’ve included your Social Security number and that all of the numbers are correct. You should also make sure you’ve attached all necessary forms, including the correct copy of your Form W-2 or Form 1099. Make sure you check your direct deposit information and your math since many returns are delayed based on those two items. With math, it’s especially important to pay close attention to numbers if you aren’t using a professional tax preparer or software since you’re relying on your own research to arrive at the numbers you’re using. Even choosing the wrong standard deduction for your age and filing status could slow things down.
Refund Delays Due to Fraud
Another thing that could affect your IRS tax refund status is fraudulent activity on your Social Security number. You likely won’t even be aware of this until you file. Identity theft has become a persistent problem with the IRS, even though the agency has put protections in place to keep taxpayers safe. Fraudulent tax activity happens when someone uses your Social Security number to file a return and get access to your refund. If this happens, the IRS may notice it in advance and send a letter alerting you to it, but often the agency will find out when you try to file your own return, and they already have one filed on your behalf.
To prevent tax filing fraud, do your best to safeguard your Social Security number. Try to avoid using it as an identifier or including it on forms you submit nonsecurely. If you work as an independent contractor, consider obtaining an Employer ID Number that you can use when filling out Form W-9 to perform work for someone. You can get an EIN in a matter of minutes on the IRS website and any taxes paid will be connected to your Social Security number without having to give that information to random third parties.
Speeding Up Your Refund
If you’re checking your IRS refund status and dissatisfied with the length of time it’s taking to go through, there are a few things you can do next year to get things moving along faster. The first step is to avoid paper-based filing altogether. If you e-file, not only will you receive your return faster, but you’ll have the confidence of knowing your return is with the IRS almost as soon as you’ve submitted it, rather than having to worry whether it’s been lost in the mail. One exception to this is if you owe, since you may want to hold on to your money and mail it on the date of the tax deadline. However, you can still file electronically and mail your payment separately later. You should also file as early as possible in the tax season, although you may find that you’re held up waiting for your employers and financial institutions to send the forms you need.
Another way to speed up your refund is to opt to receive it electronically. If you choose to have a check mailed to you, you’ll be waiting much longer. You can have your refund deposited in up to three separate bank accounts. You should also begin checking the IRS Refund Status page as soon as possible and check it regularly throughout the time you’re waiting for your refund. This will allow you to see a request to call the IRS early in the season, possibly letting you clear things up quickly so that your return can be moved to the refund processing stage.
Concerns About Audits
Like many taxpayers, you may be worried about the possibility of a tax audit. This can seem like a much scarier prospect than it actually is. If you use a professional tax preparer or software, check to see if you’ll have assistance in the event of an audit. Having professional backup to answer any questions the IRS might have can be a great relief. But it’s important to note that many IRS audits are conducted by mail and can be easily cleared up by simply providing documentation or making a correction.
Even if you need a face-to-face audit, often you can merely drop by an IRS office to clear up an error or two. In this instance, you can bring along a tax preparer to help. But the most well-known type of audit is a field audit, which sends an IRS employee to your home or business. These audits are extremely rare, though, and considering that less than one percent of tax returns result in an audit, you likely have nothing to worry about.