Where's My Tax Refund: An Easy Guide

The IRS indicates that it issued approximately ​151.8 million​ tax refunds in ​2020​, although this number included about ​13.8 million​ interest-only payments. Refunds representative of tax overpayments and refundable tax credits came in at about ​138 million​. You can check your refund status in a few easy ways if you're one of the lucky taxpayers who's getting a refund, but haven't received your money yet.

E-filing Streamlines the Process

The IRS indicates that nine out of every 10 taxpayers receive their refunds in less than 21 days,​ due in part to opting to e-file their returns as well as setting up direct deposit for their refunds. An e-filed return is generally accepted by the IRS within ​24 to 48 hours​ after receipt.

The IRS also says that there's only a .​5 percenterror rate among electronically filed returns, whereas ​21 percent​ of paper-filed returns are submitted with errors. These errors can – and will – delay the receipt of your tax refund.

E-filing is secure and convenient, and the IRS prefers this method as well. Filing your return electronically saves the agency time and money, it cuts down on taxpayers' errors and it streamlines the entire process. You'll receive your refund much faster than taxpayers who use paper filing and request paper checks.

The best way to check the status of your refund is to make use of the IRS Get Refund Status tool. You can access it online or through the IRS2Go mobile app.

IRS Refund Timetables

The IRS doesn't give specific dates by which you can expect to receive your refund, but you can find numerous online tax refund charts that can help you anticipate when you’ll get your money based on which method of refund payment you select or whether you e-filed your return. The timeframes break down like this:

  • You can expect your refund to land in your bank account within ​one to three weeks​ after the agency has received your return if you e-file and request direct deposit.
  • E-filing your return and receiving a paper check can take about ​four weeks​.
  • You should expect your refund in ​six to eight weeks​ if you file a paper return and opt for direct deposit.
  • You'll have the longest wait for your refund, approximately ​eight weeks,​ if you prepare and mail in a paper return and request a paper check for your refund.

Common Errors and Delayed Refunds

Numerous factors can delay your refund, and taxpayer-submitted errors can be the most common culprit behind these dreaded delays. Errors can be as simple as misspelled taxpayer names, wrong Social Security numbers or filing under the wrong status. Or they can be more serious, such as suspected under-reporting of income or egregious calculation errors. Anything that catches the attention of the IRS and causes the agency to take a closer look at your return can cause a delay.

Filing early is often encouraged and is considered to be a good practice, but keep in mind that although you can technically file your return beginning on January 1, this doesn't mean that the IRS will immediately begin to process it. The IRS didn't begin processing federal tax returns until January 28, 2020, for the 2019 tax year. It should announce a 2021 date for 2020 tax returns sometime in December 2020. Base the anticipated arrival of your refund on when your return is accepted by the IRS.

EITC and ACTC Delays

The IRS is required by law to hold your refund a little while longer if you claim the Earned Income Tax Credit or EITC, or the Additional Child Tax Credit or ACTC.

The IRS indicates the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act prohibits it from issuing these refunds until ​mid-February​ each year. It expects the earliest EITC/ACTC-related refunds to be available in taxpayer bank accounts or on debit cards by the ​first week of March in 2021​ for 2020 returns if these taxpayers chose direct deposit and there are no other issues with their tax return.

You Haven't Received Your Refund...but You Should Have

It's possible that your refund might have been offset to cover past IRS tax obligations, past due child support payments or even defaulted student loan obligations if you haven't received it by the time you reasonably should have. The IRS will notify you in writing if this is the case, however, so double-check your mail. Certain agencies or collections can cause the IRS to offset, or take, your refund to pay off these obligations. You can also take steps to track down your refund if necessary.

Otherwise, the best way to check the status of your refund is to make use of the IRS Get Refund Status tool. You can access it online or through the IRS2Go mobile app. They're typically updated 24 hours after e-filing and four weeks after mailing in a tax return. You'll have to provide is your Social Security number, filing status and your exact return amount.