5 Ways To Prepare For a Possible Tax Refund Delay

Tax forms with Treasury check.
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Tax season has officially begun. The Internal Revenue Service began accepting 2021 tax returns on Jan. 24, so you can now file yours and start the — potentially lengthy — waiting game for your refund.

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The IRS is expecting to receive more than 160 million individual tax returns for 2021 — the bulk of which will be submitted before the April 18 deadline. However, the sheer volume of returns, combined with several important tax law changes and challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, could cause your check to be delayed.

However, most people who file a tax return with no issues will likely receive their check within 21 days of filing electronically — similar to last year’s time period — if they choose direct deposit, according to the IRS. In 2021, the average tax refund was around $2,800, so this is a good amount of money that you will want back in your pocket sooner than later.

While there’s no way to know if your refund check will be late, try to avoid relying on it to arrive by a certain date. Here are five tips to start working on this now, so you don’t find yourself short on cash.

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See: Why You Should Line Up a Tax Preparer Now — and What Paperwork You’ll Need

Set Up Payment Plans

If you’re currently short on cash, you might be waiting for your tax refund to pay off recent debts. Since the money might take awhile to reach you, Brett Sohns, founder of LifeGoal Investments, recommended setting up payment plans with creditors now.

“You can create payment plans for outstanding bills you need to pay, so they don’t get sent to collections, and then make a larger payment when you receive your tax refund,” he said.

Taking this step can help you avoid late fees and potential damage to your credit score with late payments.

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Create a Budget

Having a budget is crucial to financial success, so take this opportunity to make one.

“To prepare for possible delays, you should have a budget in place that helps you understand your spending habits,” Sohns said. “This can help you plan for expenses while you are waiting for your return.”

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Creating a budget will also force you to review your spending habits, which could shed light on expenses you don’t actually need.

“Pull up your credit card and bank statements to see if there is anywhere to start cutting back your expenses, so you can live off less until your tax refund comes,” said Cliff Auerswald, president of All Reverse Mortgage, Inc. “If you need to cut down your subscription services, switch to a cheaper phone plan or start budgeting more tightly for groceries, these changes can free up an extra few hundred dollars a month and help you rely less on that tax refund in the months to come.”

Learn: Taxes 2022: Are Face Masks and Hand Sanitizer Deductible?

Take on a Side Hustle

If you have the time, Auerswald suggested picking up gig work to earn the extra cash needed to tide you over until your refund arrives.

“All you need is a computer and an internet connection to become a virtual assistant or try freelancing your skills on Upwork,” he said. “Or, start picking up some Uber shifts in your off-hours and make some extra coin that will help get you through until you receive your payout.”

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Since there’s no shortage of side hustles to choose from, it’s possible you’ll enjoy it so much, you’ll stick with it to keep earning extra money after your refund arrives.

Read: The Tax-Filing Mistakes All Retirees Make

Double Check Your Return

Unless you’re an accountant, completing a tax return can be tricky. Therefore, it’s easy to make errors that can cause your return to be delayed.

Specifically, more than 10 million electronically filed 2020 tax returns contained errors that required a manual review, according to the IRS. This is significantly more than in previous years, so it’s definitely worth taking an extra look at your form before submitting it.

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File as Soon as Possible (and Electronically)

Doing your taxes might not top your list of fun activities, but the early bird often gets the worm — which in this case is, of course, a refund check.

David Frederick, director of client success and advice at First Bank, recommended filing your tax return as soon as possible if you need the money without too much delay.

“Individuals who file well ahead of the April 18th deadline are likely to receive their refund sooner than late filers,” said Frederick, who is also an adjunct economics professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

Additionally, filing electronically will help you receive your refund faster, according to the IRS. In fact, the agency’s website states that it’s more important than ever to opt against a paper return to avoid delays.

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About the Author

Jennifer Taylor is a West Coast-based freelance writer with more than a decade of experience writing about anything and everything. Since earning her MBA, personal finance has been her favorite topic, as she’s passionate about writing stories that educate, inform and empower. Specifically, she specializes in budgeting, debt repayment, savings and retirement.
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