When the taxman comes and you have paid your dues, you obviously would like a timeline indicating when you will get your tax refund. Depending on when you filed your taxes, you could receive that check earlier or later than you think.
When You Will Get Your Tax Refund
You can estimate when you’ll receive your funds — the IRS issues most refunds less than 21 days after filing. So generally, you can expect to get your tax refund within about three weeks after you file your tax return.
Tax Refund Timeline Estimations
|Filing Method||Filing to Refund Timeline|
|E-file with Direct Deposit||One to three weeks|
|E-file with the check mailed to you||One month|
|Paper file with Direct Deposit||Three weeks|
|Paper file with the check mailed to you||Two months|
Here’s a comprehensive overview of the tax refund process.
How To Track Your Tax Refund
The IRS website offers a “Where’s My Refund?” tool that enables you to track your refund after you’ve filed your income tax return. You can also track your refund through the IRS2Go app with the same information. You will see one of the following statuses on the site:
- Return received
- Refund approved
- Refund sent
What You’ll Need
To track your refund, you’ll need your Social Security number, your filing status and the exact amount of your refund.
For filing status, you’ll have to choose from the following options:
- Married-Filing Joint Return
- Married-Filing Separate Return
- Head of Household
- Qualifying Widow(er)
Providing all of these personal details helps protect your information and avoids anyone else accessing your tax return data. If you’re wondering, “Where’s my tax refund?” — this is how you find out the exact answer.
Typically, you can start tracking your return one day after you file if you submit your return electronically. But if you mail in a paper tax return, it takes about one month.
How To Get Your Tax Refund Faster
No matter how you plan on using your tax refund, you’re probably anxious to receive it. Here are a few steps you can take to improve your chances of getting your tax refund quickly:
- File early: In general, the sooner you file, the sooner you will get your refund.
- Check your return for errors or omissions: When the IRS needs to contact you for additional information, it slows down how quickly you receive your refund.
- Use e-file to have your refund directly deposited into your bank account: With direct deposit, it might take a few days for the refund to show up in your account, depending on your financial institution.
- Make sure your direct deposit account is in your name: The IRS can only deposit a check into an account in your name, your spouse’s name or a joint account.
Note that returns claiming certain tax credits might not get processed any earlier than late February. Specifically, taxpayers taking advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit and/or the Additional Child Tax Credit may have to go through this wait.
What If You File Your Taxes Late?
Filing taxes on time is generally a good practice. In addition to releasing yourself of the burden, you can expect an earlier tax refund. The longer you wait to file your taxes, the longer it will take to get your refund.
Plus, filing late might incur some expensive consequences. If the IRS owes you a refund, filing late generally won’t hurt you. However, if you owe taxes, you will be penalized for both filing and paying late.
Request an Extension
Some people need more time to file taxes. If you’re e-filing, you can file for an extension for free using the IRS’s Free File. Paper filers will need to submit Form 4868 to get a six-month extension on their tax deadline.
This strategy helps you avoid being penalized for filing your taxes late, but note that the form doesn’t extend the time to pay taxes. If you wind up owing taxes after the extension, you will still be penalized.
Why Your Tax Refund Might Be Delayed
The IRS lists the following issues that might extend the tax refund processing time and delay your refund:
- Amended return refunds take about 16 weeks.
- You’re filing an injured spouse claim.
- You’re renewing an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN).
There’s also a three refunds-per-year limit on the number of direct deposits going into a single account.
To avoid a delay in the future, consider changing your tax withholding for next year. That way, instead of waiting for a refund for overpaying your taxes all year, you’ll keep that cash in your pocket every paycheck. Just make sure you don’t overcorrect and end up owing taxes.
When To Call the IRS To Check Tax Refund Status
Still feeling a bit anxious about when to expect your return? The IRS recommends you only call them if:
- It’s been more than 21 days since you e-filed.
- It’s been six weeks or more since you mailed your returns.
- The “Where’s My Refund” tool tells you to contact the IRS.
Make sure you have your Social Security number or your ITIN handy when you reach out to the IRS.
When Can I Expect My State Tax Refund?
State and federal taxes are separate filing processes. When expecting a refund from your state government, the exact timeline varies based on several factors, including your specific state. Just like with your federal tax return, the processing time is usually much less if you file electronically with your state.
To check on the progress of your state tax return, find the contact information for your state’s department of taxation. You’ll likely need personally-identifying information to receive specifics on your tax refund, including your Social Security number and your refund amount.
Also, note that some states are implementing refunds through debit cards rather than checks or direct deposits, to make it easier for people who don’t have a bank account.
Whenever Your Tax Refund Comes, Protect Your Identity
Identity theft during tax season is a real problem. According to the IRS, thousands of individual taxpayers have lost millions of combined dollars through tax scams. For example, the IRS will never ask for your money on the spot without credentials or try to reach you through the following methods:
- Social media
Also, be aware of how to inadvertently commit tax fraud on your own. If you don’t feel confident that all of the deductions you’re claiming are legitimate, you should hire a professional.
Final Take: When You Should Expect Your Tax Refund
You can speed up your tax return by properly filing your taxes and keeping relevant information on hand. Filing your tax returns electronically can help expedite the process, as can opting for direct deposit rather than a paper check in the mail.
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Caitlyn Moorhead contributed to the reporting for this article.