3 min read

What to Do if You Got Your State Refund Before Federal


Content provided for general information. Talk to your advisor to learn about recent updates or other rules that may apply to your situation.

If you got your state tax refund before your federal tax refund it usually doesn’t mean anything. If you’re worried, here’s what you can check.

Do state tax refunds or federal tax refunds come first?

There is no rule that says you get your federal tax refund or state refund first. It depends on where you live and can vary from year to year.

Some states are consistently faster at issuing refunds than the IRS. Others are slower.

Even if you’ve always gotten your federal tax refund first for the last 10 years, it could just be that your state sped things up this year.

Does your state refund status affect your federal refund status?

Refunds for state taxes and federal taxes are completely separate. State refunds generally don’t have anything to do with when the Internal Revenue Service will send your federal tax refund.

You can still get your state refund if the IRS holds your federal tax refund. You can also get your federal tax refund if your state holds your state refund.

One thing to know is that many states do fewer checks than the IRS and are less likely to delay your state tax refund. When your state income tax return simply copies your federal income taxes, the states leave most of the audit work to the IRS.

If the IRS finds something wrong on your tax return, they’ll usually notify your state. So you could get your state tax refund, have the IRS reduce your federal tax refund, and then later get a tax bill from your state.

Did you claim a refundable tax credit?

If you claimed federal refundable tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit or certain child tax credits, the IRS may be required to hold your refund by law.

To prevent fraud, Congress passed a law that the Internal Revenue Service can’t issue refunds for any tax returns that claimed certain refundable credits before February 15th. This gives the IRS additional time to collect and process your tax forms from your employers and other sources.

States don’t follow the federal system and process refunds on their own schedule. So if you file early, you could get your state refund immediately but have to wait until late February to get your federal refund.

Did you file a paper tax return?

If you filed by mail, the IRS normally takes six to eight weeks to send your refund check. That’s compared to two to three weeks when you file electronically.

In the past few years, IRS processing times have been even worse. They’ve been saying it could take six months or even longer.

Some states routinely process paper tax returns faster than the IRS does. Other states are usually slower but have been faster lately because they haven’t had the same staffing issues as the IRS.

How do you know if there’s something wrong with your federal return?

Your first stop to know what’s going on with your refund should always be to check your refund online using the IRS Where’s My Refund tool.

Where’s My Refund shows you when the IRS received your tax return and what your refund status is.

If your tax refund was held for further review, don’t panic yet. Sometimes the IRS just needs more time to check things and will send you your full refund without contacting you.

If the IRS needs more information or thinks your refund is wrong, they’ll send you a letter in the mail.

Even if you do get a letter, it doesn’t mean you won’t get your full refund. The letter gives you a chance to provide an explanation of why the amount you claimed is correct.

If you did make a mistake, the IRS will usually send your adjusted refund either when you respond or after a certain number of days if you don’t respond.

Related: Bars Disappeared on Where’s My Refund