Waiting on Tax Refund? What ‘Return Being Processed’ Status Really Means

1040 income tax form and w-2 wage statement with a federal Treasury refund check.
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Taxpayers who have checked the “Where’s My Refund” tool on the IRS website have probably seen a message that says, “Your return is being processed.” In some cases, this message might stay on there for weeks or even months.

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The message might be annoying if it keeps popping up over and over again, but it actually carries good news.

That’s because it means the IRS “got your tax return, so you don’t have to sweat that there was an issue with them receiving it,” Howard Samuels, a certified public accountant at New Jersey-based Samuels & Associates, told the Acorns.

Historically, the IRS has been able to process most returns and issue refunds within 21 calendar days of receiving the return. But the agency has run into a massive backlog since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, caused by a combination of staff shortages and more complex returns that include federal stimulus payment income.

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The IRS recently reassigned 1,200 employees to answer calls and help with the backlog. It said in a statement last month that it expects to have most refunds disbursed within 21 days this tax season. Even so, don’t be surprised if your refund is delayed.

“At this point I would say sit tight for at least four to six weeks,” Samuels said. “After that, you may want to call the IRS to find out what’s going on.”

There are steps you can take to help prevent delays. As GOBankingRates previously reported, these include filing your return online, choosing direct deposit, double-checking that all the information is accurate, making sure you sign the return before sending it off and ensuring that it is sent to the right IRS processing center.

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If you suspect that your refund is delayed longer than usual, you should contact the IRS. Just be sure to do so at the right time. Last year, taxpayers who contacted the agency with tax return questions had only a 1 in 9 chance of being answered, Acorns noted, citing a report from the Taxpayer Advocate Service. Those who did get through had average wait times of 23 minutes before being connected to a customer service agent.

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“Your best bet is to call first thing in the morning as soon as the IRS opens at 7 a.m. ET,” Samuels said. “I’ve also heard some people have luck when they call later in the day around 6 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. [Eastern] right before the IRS closes at 7 p.m.”

Another thing to keep in mind: The IRS is obligated to pay interest on refunds that have run into excessive delays. If you don’t receive a refund within 45 days of this year’s April 18 filing deadline — which would be June 2 — the IRS will owe you interest on the refund.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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