Finding out if the IRS check is
in the mail
Still waiting for your refund check
from Uncle Sam?
If you didn't post your return until
April 15 then you'll be biding your time a bit longer. But if you
filed earlier, there are some steps you can take to track down your
Generally, the Internal Revenue Service
says if you filed electronically you should give its processors
around a week before checking your return's status. If you mailed
in a paper 1040, the agency says it could take up to a month before
it can tell you exactly where in the tax pipeline your refund is.
Business returns tend to take about six
weeks. And if you amended
your filing, you'll have to wait eight to 12 weeks before the
After you've waited the recommended time, the easiest way to find
out about your tax money is to head to the IRS Web site, where you'll
find the agency's refund
locator. Once there, be ready to provide:
Your Social Security number. If
it's a joint return, enter the first number shown on your return.
The filing status used.
The amount of your refund.
The online program will tell you if the
IRS has processed your return and give you a date that your refund
will be sent. The information is updated each weekend, so if you
don't get an expected refund date the first time you check, the
IRS suggests you wait another week for the latest data before logging
Dialing for tax
If you prefer, you can get your refund's status by calling 1-800-829-1954,
the IRS's special automated toll-free refund line. To complete the
call, you'll need the same information required by the Web refund
The agency's TeleTax line at 1-800-829-4477
also lets you locate refund money. But this number serves several
purposes, including connections to prerecorded tax topics. You'll
have to punch in a few more digits to get to the refund-tracking
Regardless of which number you call,
the same update time applies. So if you don't find your refund information
on the first call, wait at least another week for the data to be
updated before you redial.
What's the holdup?
If the Web check or phone call reveals that the IRS is still working
on your refund, there could be several reasons.
The most common causes of delay, according
to the IRS, include math errors, an address change after filing
the return, a name on the tax return that does not match
Social Security records, failure to sign the return or not sending
the necessary attachments, such as W-2s or schedules.
Any of these things could cause your
refund to be slowed by as much as eight more weeks.
What if it's lost?
You called the status line and learned your check was mailed several
weeks ago, but it still hasn't shown up. What now? It's time to
get some personal help from the IRS.
Call the agency's main help line at 1-800-829-1040,
but don't push the option (number 2) for tracking down a refund.
That will send you to an automated system where you'll be instructed
to go to the Web site to determine your refund's status.
Instead, select option number 1, questions
about filing or preparing your tax return. Once in this area, punching
number 4 will send you to an IRA representative. But be forewarned:
Callers trying to get through just after the tax-filing deadline
are likely to get a recorded message instead of personal help. Even
when you do get a real IRS representative on the phone, it could
be after a long wait. You might have better (or more immediate)
luck by checking the IRS's How
to Contact Us Web page for local and regional agency addresses
Once your conversation with the IRS verifies
that your refund check is lost or stolen, the replacement process
will begin. You might be asked to complete Form
3911, Taxpayer Statement Regarding Refund, to get the
Wrong check arrived?
When the check finally arrives, sometimes there are more questions
If you get a refund and you weren't expecting
one, or the check is for more than you thought you'd get, don't
cash it. The IRS should send you a notice explaining the difference,
along with any additional information or instructions.
You can call 1-800-829-1040 if you don't
get an explanatory letter within two weeks of getting your questionable
On the other hand, if your refund is
less than you expected, go ahead and cash the check. If further
investigation reveals that you should have received more, the IRS
will make up the difference (plus a bit of interest if it takes
more than 45 days to correct the error) and send you another check
for the balance due.
Here again, you can call the 800 number
for clarification of your refund amount.
Check your bank
The IRS has one final piece of advice for anxious filers still looking
for refund checks.
If you requested direct deposit, check
your bank account regularly. The IRS will simply transfer the money
to your financial institution without sending you any other notification.
It's up to you to find out if the refund is already in your account.
-- Updated: April 20, 2004