Where’s my refund? How to track your tax refund

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If you expect to get money back from the IRS this year, you probably have one big question: When will I get my tax refund? Thankfully, it’s easy to track the status of your tax refund online, without sitting on hold for a long time.

Use the IRS’ ‘Where’s My Refund’ online tool

Since 2003, the IRS has provided an online tool that lets you track the status of your refund electronically. You can access the tool, called “Where’s My Refund?,” as soon as 24 hours after you e-file your tax return (or four weeks after mailing your paper return). You can also download the IRS2Go app to track your tax refund on your mobile device.

You’ll need the following information to check the status of your refund online:

  • Social Security number or ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number).
  • Filing status (e.g., single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household, etc.).
  • Exact amount of the refund listed on your tax return.

Once you input the required data, you’ll encounter one of three status settings.

  1. Return Received: The IRS has your tax return and is processing it.
  2. Refund Approved: The IRS has finished processing your return and your tax refund is being prepared. Once ready, the IRS will send your funds to your bank (if you opted for direct deposit) or mail them to you directly.
  3. Refund Sent: The IRS has electronically submitted the refund to your bank or your check is in the mail.

The IRS updates refund status once a day, usually overnight.

How long it takes the IRS to issue a refund

The IRS issues most tax refunds (more than 90 percent) in fewer than 21 calendar days. However, that doesn’t mean you should count on your refund to hit your bank account or mailbox within three weeks. The IRS says the fastest way to get a refund is to use IRS e-file and direct deposit.

If you opt to receive your refund electronically, it will likely take additional time for your bank to post your refund amount to your account. Weekends and holidays, for example, may extend the time between when your refund leaves the IRS and shows up in your account.

If you filed a tax refund with an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or an Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) claim, this may affect the timing of your refund as well. EITC/ACTC filers will receive their refunds by the first week of March at the earliest (if direct deposit was selected), depending upon when they filed their returns.

Reasons your tax refund might be delayed

Although you’re probably eager to receive your refund, it might take longer than 21 days for the IRS to process your return. Several issues might cause a delay, including:

  1. Your tax return includes errors.
  2. The tax return you submitted is incomplete.
  3. You’re a victim of identity theft or fraud.
  4. You’re claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit or Additional Child Tax Credit.
  5. You submitted a Form 8379, an Injured Spouse Allocation, which could take the IRS up to 14 weeks to process.
  6. The tax return requires further review.
  7. You filed a paper return, which could result in processing delays due to limited staffing.

Ways to get your refund faster

There’s no magic wand that will make your refund arrive instantly. But there are a few steps you can take to potentially speed up the process.

  1. File your tax return electronically. When you submit your return electronically, it can start the review process sooner.
  2. Ask the IRS to send your refund by direct deposit. The IRS says this is the fastest way to receive your tax refund. (If you want to get your money deposited directly into your account, you’ll have to supply the IRS with your account number and bank routing number.)

Tracking amended tax returns

Filing an amended tax return can be a pain. Yet, if you do have to file an amended return for any reason, the good news is you may still be able to track its status online using the “Where’s My Amended Return” tool. But be patient, as the IRS says an amended return can take three weeks after you mailed it to show up in their system; and processing can take up to 16 weeks.

When you should call the IRS

The IRS’ online tools are all that most people need to track the status of a tax refund. But there are some exceptions. You might need to give the IRS a call in the following situations:

  • “Where’s My Refund?,” “Where’s My Amended Return?,” or IRS2Go directs you to call.
  • It’s been more than 21 days since you filed electronically (over six weeks for paper filers) and you’re eager to know the status of your refund or worried about theft or fraud.
  • It’s been more than 16 weeks since you mailed an amended tax return.

Keep in mind, calling the IRS won’t speed up the processing of your refund. According to the IRS, if you’re eager to know when your refund will arrive, you’re better off using one of its online tracking tools. The IRS updates the status of refunds daily, generally overnight, so checking an online tool multiple times throughout the day probably won’t be helpful.

Remember, phone representatives at the IRS can only research the status of your refund 21 days after you file electronically, six weeks after you mail a paper return, or 16 weeks after you mail an amended return.

How to track your state tax refund

State taxes work a little differently than federal taxes, because each state manages their system a little differently. To check the status of your state tax refund, you’ll need the same information you need to check your federal tax refund: your Social Security number and your refund amount.

Your state’s tax website should have an option on the page to track your taxes, similarly to the federal system. Most states’ pages will say “Where’s My Refund?” Follow the prompts there to track your state tax refund.

The amount of time it takes to get your refund also varies by state, and some take several weeks. Once you’ve crossed the amount of expected time it takes, then you potentially have the option to call your state tax office to locate your return, get a status update and an idea of when you might receive your refund. You can find all this information on your state’s local tax page.

Written by
Michelle Black
Contributing writer
Michelle Lambright Black is a credit expert with over 19 years of experience, a freelance writer and a certified credit expert witness. In addition to writing for Bankrate, Michelle's work is featured with numerous publications including FICO, Experian, Forbes, U.S. News & World Report and Reader’s Digest, among others.