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, 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 statuses once a day, usually during the night.

How long it takes the IRS to issue a refund

The IRS issues most tax refunds 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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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. Statuses are updated 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 sixteen weeks after you mail an amended return.