Where's My Tax Refund: An Easy Guide

If you’re one of the fortunate taxpayers anticipating a refund this year, and it hasn’t arrived yet, you likely want to know where it is. According to Forbes, 75 percent of taxpayers receive a refund in a typical tax year, but this number is expected to decrease due to recent tax reforms. Luckily, when your refund is late, you have ways to easily check your refund status.

E-filing Streamlines the Process

Last tax season, nine in every 10 taxpayers received their refunds in less than 21 days, due in part to more taxpayers opting to e-file their returns as well as setting up direct deposit for the refund. For example, an e-filed return is generally accepted by the IRS within 24 to 48 hours after e-filing it, but this confirmation can be received sometimes in less than an hour, says Forbes.

According to the IRS, there is only a one percent error rate among electronically filed returns, whereas 20 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, plus the IRS prefers this method as well. Filing your return electronically saves the agency time and money, cuts down on taxpayers' errors and streamlines the entire process. When you couple e-filing with direct deposit, you will receive your refund much faster than taxpayers who used paper filing and opted for cash checks.

IRS Refund Timetables

Although you can find numerous online tax refund charts that are supposed to help you anticipate when you’ll get your refund – based on which method of refund payment you select or whether or not you filed an electronic versus a paper return – the IRS does not give specific dates by which you can expect to receive your refund. However, taxpayers can still get a rough estimate online of how long it can take them to receive their refunds:

  • If you e-file in conjunction with direct deposit, you can expect your refund to land in your account within one to three weeks after the agency has received your return. 
  • E-filing your return and receiving a paper check can take a bit longer, about four weeks
  • If you paper file and opt for direct deposit, you should expect your refund in six to eight weeks
  • However, if you choose to prepare and mail in a paper return, with a paper check for the refund, then you will have the longest wait time for your refund, or approximately eight weeks.

Common Errors and Delayed Refunds

It’s best not to put all of your refund eggs in one basket and plan that cruise to Fiji, extra mortgage or car payment just yet. If you’re expecting a refund from the IRS, there are numerous factors that can delay it, and taxpayer-submitted errors may be the most common culprit behind these dreaded delayed refunds.

Errors can be simple such as misspelled taxpayer names, wrong Social Security Number and filing under the wrong status, or they can be more serious like suspected under-reporting of income or egregious calculation errors. It’s worth noting, however, anything that catches the attention of the IRS, and causes the agency to take a closer look at your return, will cause delays.

EITC and ACTC Delays

But, before you are too hard on yourself, there are also other reasons that can cause a delay in receiving your IRS refund in a timely manner, through no fault of your own. If you avail yourself of certain tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC, as well as the Additional Child Tax Credit, or ACTC, then by law the IRS has to hold your refund.

Though the 2020 timeline hasn't been published, in regards to 2019, the IRS website states that, "According to the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act, the IRS cannot issue these refunds before mid-February. The IRS expects the earliest EITC/ACTC related refunds to be available in taxpayer bank accounts or debit cards starting Feb. 27, 2019, if these taxpayers chose direct deposit and there are no other issues with their tax return."

Tips

  • The best way to check the status of your refund when you have claimed the EITC or the ACTC is to refer to the IRS "Where's My Refund?" tool.

You can access the "Where's My Refund?" tool through the IRS.gov website, or through the IRS2Go mobile app. This tool will be updated 24 hours after e-filing and four weeks after mailing a tax return. All you need to provide is your Social Security Number, filing status and your exact return amount.

Other Possible Tax Refund Delays

Something else that you should keep in mind regarding any possible delay of your tax return is if you file early. Tax filing early is often encouraged and is considered a very good practice. Keep in mind, however, that while you can technically file taxes beginning on Jan. 1, this does not mean the IRS will begin to process your return or refund immediately.

For example, in 2019, the IRS confirmed that it would not begin processing any federal tax returns until Jan. 28, 2019. This means that you cannot base the expected refund date on when you file your return. Instead, you need to base it on when your return is accepted by the IRS.

Still Haven’t Received Your Federal Tax Refund?

If more than an appropriate amount of time has passed, and you have still not received your refund, then it may have possibly been offset to cover past IRS tax obligations, past due child support payments or even defaulted student loan obligations. The IRS will notify you in writing if this is the case. Even if you are due for a certain refund amount on your overpaid taxes or any refundable credits you may be expecting, certain agencies or collections can cause the IRS to offset, or take, your refund to pay off these obligations.

Government Shutdown and Your Refund

Undoubtedly, you are aware of recent government shutdowns and may be concerned with whether or not this shutdown will impact your tax refund. This concern is understandable, but the IRS assures that refunds will go out as scheduled, reports financial news and business forecasting publication, Kiplinger. However, this does remain to be seen, because as of time of publication, taxpayers were still filing 2018 taxes and the effects of a government shutdown on refunds have yet to fully be determined.