Whether you haven’t filed your tax return yet or filed weeks ago and don’t know why you haven’t gotten your refund, here’s how tax refunds work and what you can do to get your tax refund faster if you experience delays.
When should you file your tax return?
To get your tax refund faster, file your income tax return as soon as possible.
Most tax preparation software becomes available in early to mid-January.
The Internal Revenue Service accepts tax returns starting in mid to late January.
How long does it take to get a tax refund?
You don’t need to wait until after April 15th. For example, if you file on February 1st, you can usually expect to see your tax refund by February 22nd.
The IRS refund timeline changes if you claim certain refundable credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit or Additional Child Tax Credit.
- Federal tax law requires the IRS to not issue these refunds before February 15th.
- This is due to the amount of fraud related to these credits. The additional time allows the IRS to receive and process tax forms from third parties like your W-2 from your employer.
- You can still file before February 15th so you’re first in line to get your refund once these refunds start going out.
- Your entire refund will get held if this rule applies to you. You won’t get part of your refund early and then your credit later. You’ll get a single refund after February 15th.
What day are tax refunds deposited?
There is no specific day the IRS deposits tax refunds. Your refund could arrive on any banking day.
How should you file?
File your tax return electronically whenever possible. The IRS automatically processes electronic returns. You can get your refund in your bank account in just a few weeks.
Paper returns have a longer processing time in normal times. That’s because the IRS enters them by hand.
Add several additional weeks for processing for paper returns. It also takes time for your paper return to go through the mail.
How should you request your refund?
The fastest way to get your tax refund is via direct deposit.
The IRS has faster processing for direct deposits versus checks. In addition, you don’t need to wait for the check in the mail and then go to the bank to deposit your check.
Can you get your tax refund before you file?
You may be in a situation where you substantially overpaid your taxes and want to get your money sooner. For example, you paid estimated taxes but your income was lower than you estimated.
You can’t get your tax refund without filing. You will need to wait until at least January to be able to file your tax return so that you can get your tax refund.
What if you’re waiting on tax forms?
You don’t necessarily need to wait for tax forms to file your tax return if you know the numbers. For example, you’re waiting to get a 1099-NEC that you know is for $10,000. You can just enter the $10,000 on your tax return.
There is a small chance that filing before you get your tax forms will get you audited by the IRS.
For example, they may not match the information you entered on the form. This could be because you used a slightly different payor name or tax identification number.
However, as long as your income and expenses are correct, you can clear this up with a simple written explanation showing why you paid the correct amount of tax.
How can you track the status of your income tax refund?
The best way to track the status of your tax refund is by using the IRS Where’s My Refund tool. You’ll need your individual taxpayer identification number and information from the first page of your tax return.
IRS phone and office representatives can only research the status of your refund if you’re in one of the following situations.
- It has been more than 21 days since you filed electronically
- It has been more than six weeks since you filed by mail
- The Where’s My Refund tool says to contact the IRS
The IRS will contact you by mail if it needs more information to process your refund. They will never contact you by email. They will only contact you by phone if you’ve already spoken to them.
How can you check for your state refund?
Many states have similar tools to the IRS. Search for “Where’s my refund [your state]” or “refund status [your state].”
What do the Where’s My Refund status messages mean?
If you’re using the IRS Where’s My Refund tool to check your refund after you filed your tax return, you may see the following messages.
Return Received or Tax Topic 152 Refund Info
If you filed electronically, you should see Return Received or Tax Topic 152 within a few days. It means the IRS got your tax return from your tax preparation company. They will do a few checks before approving your refund.
The message on the page means what it says.
We have received your tax return, and it is being processed. If you filed a complete and accurate tax return, your refund should be issued within 21 days of the received date. However, processing may take longer under certain circumstances. Please check here or visit the Refunds page on IRS.gov to check your refund status. Please read the following information related to your tax situation: Tax Topic 152, Refund Information.
Having Tax Topic 152 for 3 months or longer is unfortunately common recently. The IRS is having many problems processing things and not answering the phone when people call to check.
Code 152 doesn’t have a special meaning. The IRS just likes to assign numbers to everything.
Tax Code 570 and Tax Code 971
- These tax codes are not on your Where’s My Refund page. You can only see them if you check your tax transcript.
- Tax code 570 means the IRS is reviewing your tax return before sending your refund. They may or may not change it.
- Tax code 971 means the IRS is still holding your tax return. They are sending you a notice to request more information or to propose changes.
Most people get this message next. Your tax return passed the initial IRS checks, and you’ll get your refund by the listed date. If you don’t get your refund, check with your bank first, then call the IRS.
Refund Status Results
Sometimes, the Where’s My Refund page changes from the progress bars to no bars and says “Refund Status Results. Your tax return is still being processed. A refund date will be provided when available.”
You may also see, “Your refund of tax withheld may require further review and could take longer.”
The status bars disappearing from the IRS website means you’re in for a longer wait.
The IRS is having trouble verifying your eligibility for a tax credit you claimed, they’re waiting for additional third-party documentation, or your return was flagged for some other reason.
What can I do if I got the Refund Status Results message?
If your tax return is still being processed, there’s nothing you can do but wait.
Often, everything will check out, and the IRS will finally approve your refund. You’ll wake up one morning to “refund approved” or a direct deposit in your bank account.
In some cases, you may get a letter from the IRS asking for more information or telling you they already adjusted your refund. You’ll need to respond according to the instructions in that letter.
Why is my tax refund taking longer than 21 days?
The IRS says that it processes most tax refunds within 21 days if you file electronically. If your refund is taking longer, here are some of the reasons why.
Tax Return Incomplete or Contains Errors
If your tax return is incomplete or has errors, the IRS will need to manually review it. Review times vary based on how busy the IRS is.
In some cases, such as simple math errors, the IRS might change your tax return and issue your corrected refund amount. In other cases, the IRS might send you a notice or error asking for additional information before they process your refund.
Identity Theft or Fraud Reports
If you’ve reported identity theft or fraud, the IRS may take longer to process your tax return. This is so they can check that the request for a refund actually came from you.
The IRS may also hold tax returns for potential fraud on their own. For example, if you had significant changes in your tax situation from last year that match patterns fraudsters use, the IRS might hold your refund until they get more information.
Certain Tax Credits Have Mandatory Holds
Refundable tax credits have high instances of fraudulent claims. If your tax return contains these credits, the law says the IRS can’t process your tax return until at least mid-February. This gives the IRS time to collect additional information to check your claim for a refund.
Tax credits that could be subject to delays include the
- Child Tax Credit
- Additional Child Tax Credit
- Earned Income Tax Credit
Injured Spouse Allocation
If you filed Form 8379 Injured Spouse Allocation, you may be in for a long wait to resolve your injured spouse claim. The IRS says it takes up to 14 weeks to process tax refunds when you’ve filed Form 8379.
2020 Tax Returns
The IRS is still processing some 2020 tax returns even in 2022. These are mostly paper returns that weren’t filed on time or that had issues. The IRS says it still has a backlog due to COVID-19 and is processing these returns as quickly as possible.
If you need your 2020 AGI to file your 2021 tax return, the IRS says to enter $0 if your 2020 tax return hasn’t been processed.
Tax Refund Sent to Closed Bank Account
Once you file your tax return, there’s usually no way to change your bank account for your tax refund.
The IRS will send your refund to the bank account you listed on your tax return. Most banks will reject the refund, and the IRS will then mail you a check.
Some banks reopen accounts that receive deposits, and you’ll have to deal with that bank to withdraw the funds.
To avoid problems with your refund, it’s usually best to avoid closing your bank account until after you get your refund. If you had fraud on your account, ask your bank if there is a way to still receive deposits while blocking other transactions.
Tax Refund Lower Than Expected
If your refund is lower than expected, check your mail for IRS notices explaining why. If you received a direct deposit refund, your notice could take a few days to arrive.
If you still don’t know why the IRS reduced your refund, call them.
Wrong Name on Tax Return Check
Your refund check should match the name on your tax return. If you receive a refund check with the wrong name, don’t cash it. Your bank will likely bounce it.
Call the IRS to notify them of the incorrect check and to request a replacement.
Bank Rejected Tax Refund
If your bank rejected your tax refund, the IRS will usually issue you a check. It will usually take a few weeks for the payment to bounce back to the IRS and for the IRS to put you in line to get a check. (When they’re sending millions of checks, it takes time to get through them all.)
You’ll have to contact your bank to determine why they rejected the refund. Common problems include your name on your tax return not exactly matching your bank account or giving the IRS a wrong account number.
Can you request to get your tax refund faster?
The IRS does not have a way to get your refund faster due to hardship or other reasons. The IRS processes refunds in the order it receives tax returns subject to the possible delays discussed above.