One of best parts of tax time is calculating your income tax return and realizing that you have money coming back to you. The wait for the refund, however, can seem like a lifetime, but there are ways that you can help to speed up the process. The IRS also provides an online system where you can track the status of your refund and get a better idea of when you should be receiving it.
You have two choices when it comes to tax filing: manual filing through the mail or electronic filing. The IRS actively encourages taxpayers to use the electronic system, and now over 80 percent of all returns are e-filed. Refunds generally come much more quickly with e-filed returns than with paper returns. The IRS standard for paper filers is six to eight weeks and for e-filers, less than three weeks. If you have your tax account set for automatic bank deposit, the time it takes to get your refund can be even less.
Common Processing Delays
Several common situations can hold up your refund. According to the IRS, one of the most common is mechanical error. If your return includes errors, it may be flagged for manual processing, which can significantly slow processing. Also, if you claim unusual or large deductions, the IRS is likely to want a closer look before turning over the cash. Double-check your return before filing to ensure completeness and accuracy to reduce the possibility of errors holding up your refund. Sometimes, delays can occur at the beginning of tax season if the IRS does not have all its forms finalized. For example, the first date of return acceptance was held up almost a week in 2013.
If you owe the IRS for other tax years, the agency will deduct that debt from your refund. If any money is left over, it will be sent to you. If your refund does not cover your entire IRS debt, don't expect a refund this year. Other federal and state agencies also have the ability to garnish your income tax refund. Common reasons for garnishments include delinquent child support payments, federal student loan arrears, and state income taxes owed.
Tracking Your Refund
You can track the progress of your refund on the IRS site in the "Where's My Refund" area. Information about your return should be available within 24 hours of e-filing or four weeks from paper-filing. To use the system, you need your Social Security number, your filing status and the exact refund amount. If the system says that you should have your refund and you do not, you can call the IRS to track down the problem. A common cause is a change in bank accounts or physical address.
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Angie Mohr is a syndicated finance columnist who has been writing professionally since 1987. She is the author of the bestselling "Numbers 101 for Small Business" books and "Piggy Banks to Paychecks: Helping Kids Understand the Value of a Dollar." She is a chartered accountant, certified management accountant and certified public accountant with a Bachelor of Arts in economics from Wilfrid Laurier University.