Unexpected Tax Refund

Content provided for general information. Talk to your advisor to confirm the details for your specific situation before taking action.

If you got an unexpected tax refund, here’s what you should do.

1. Don’t touch the money.

If you get an unexpected direct deposit, don’t spend it until you confirm what it is. If you get an unexpected check, don’t cash it.

The IRS doesn’t work like monopoly. If you get money because of an IRS error, you don’t get to keep it.

2. Check your mail — the IRS will (sometimes) increase your refund.

The IRS checks all tax returns for basic errors. If you made a mistake and are actually supposed to get a bigger refund, the IRS may catch it automatically. You’ll get the bigger refund instead of the amount you requested.

You should receive an IRS notice in the mail explaining any changes to your refund. The letter may take 1-2 weeks to arrive after you get an unexpected tax refund by direct deposit.

3. Check your IRS account.

Go to the IRS website and click “Get Your Tax Record.” When you request your account transcript, it will show your refund history.

If the numbers match, your refund came from the IRS and was meant for you.

If the numbers don’t match, call the IRS. Someone made a mistake.

If you don’t call the IRS to give back any extra money, they’ll likely take it back later. Extra penalties or interest may apply.

4. Never send an unexpected refund to anyone else.

Never send an extra tax refund to anyone other than the IRS or your state tax authority (for state refunds). Only do that after you’ve gone to their website and called via an official phone number.

It’s a common scam for:

  • Someone to send you money
  • Either
    • Say they gave your account info by mistake and ask you to send the funds
    • Pretend to be the IRS and ask you to send it back to the IRS (but it really isn’t going to the IRS)
  • After you send the money, the money you received bounces and gets taken out of your account by your bank
  • Your bank also won’t give back the money you sent

If you ever get unknown money, call your bank.

If it was a mistake, the bank will know it’s OK to reverse the original transaction when the other person calls in. If it was a scam attempt, your bank will be less likely to charge you fees or closing your account for taking payments that bounce.

Leave a Comment

All comments are public, so please don't include any sensitive information. Comments are for general discussion. If you're looking for tax advice or have questions about a specific situation, get help now.