Learning that you are eligible for a tax refund can be a welcome surprise. Or maybe it’s something you’ve been hoping (or even waiting for) for months.
If you have any pressing expenses — maybe you’re behind on a few bills or have been putting off going to the dentist because of the cost — you may be wondering how you might be able to get that money into your hands ASAP.
Fortunately, there are a few simple things any taxpayer can do to help ensure that their refund comes quickly.
This includes e-filing with the IRS (rather than physically mailing in your return) and setting up direct deposit, so there’s no waiting for that refund check to come through the mail.
Read on to learn more about getting your tax refund sooner, including:
• How to plan your tax return filing
• How to file electronically
• How to set up direct deposit
• How to track your refund.
Quickest Ways to Get Your Tax Refund
Here are some key steps you may want to take as tax season gets underway, starting well before Tax Day in April. They’ll help ensure that you get your refund ASAP.
1. Start Planning Your Tax Return Filing in January
In general, the fastest way to get your tax refund is to file your taxes early, and you certainly don’t want to miss that tax-filing deadline.
This means that, starting in January, you may want to begin collecting all the necessary information for filling out your tax forms, such as your W-2 and any 1099s. You’ll also likely need to decide whether you are going to file on your own (perhaps using tax software) or hire a tax preparation service or accountant to help.
2. Get Your Return in ASAP
The further into tax season that you file, the more likely the IRS is to be inundated with returns. That can slow processing times, which can delay your refund.
If you followed Step 1, above, then you’ll have your documentation organized. All of the forms you need should be issued by January 31st.
If you prefer working with a professional tax preparer, it’s wise to book them in advance, since they’ll likely be very busy with other clients. If you plan to use tax software, buy it early and learn how to use it. You’ll be ready to be one of the first filers out of the starting gate.
3. File Your Tax Return Electronically
One of the fastest ways to get your refund can be to choose electronic filing instead of sending your return by mail.
That way, your refund can begin moving through the system immediately, rather than having to wind its way through snail mail and hands-on processing.
A paper tax return can take about six to eight weeks to process, but with electronic filing, or e-filing, taxpayers can typically expect to receive their refund within 21 days. Your tax preparer will usually offer ways for you to file electronically.
Taxpayers can also use tax preparation software such as TurboTax, TaxSlayer, TaxAct, or H&R Block. You can use these programs to file your taxes yourself, or you might go to a professional who knows how to use this type of software. Either way, electronic filing is probably an option.
4. Get Help Filing Your Return Quickly
But what if you don’t have funds for tax help and are feeling overwhelmed by the process and therefore don’t file right away? Fortunately, help is available. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offers a few options for e-filing which can help you get this task completed.
Most states offer free e-filing options for state returns.
If taxpayers make an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $73,000 or less per year, then they can use IRS Free File to turn in their tax forms.
For taxpayers whose AGI is greater than $73,000, they can use the IRS’s Free File Fillable Forms service, which lets you simply input your data onto your tax forms so you can e-file (if you choose this option, you’ll need to know how to prepare your own tax return).
The IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs also provide help and e-file for taxpayers who qualify.
Most states also offer free e-filing options for state returns.
The IRS has a helpful tool on their website where taxpayers can find an authorized IRS e-file Provider Locator. All taxpayers have to do is input their zip code and choose what kind of provider they need.
5. Set Up Direct Deposit
How else to get your refund fast? The speediest way to get your tax refund is to have it electronically deposited into your financial account. This is known as direct deposit, and the service is free. It’s also possible to break up your refund and have it deposited into one, two, or even three accounts.
You can set up direct deposit simply by selecting it as your refund method through your tax software and then inputting your account number and routing number (which you can find on your personal checks or through your financial institution).
Or, you can tell your tax preparer that you want direct deposit.
It’s also possible to select direct deposit if you’re filing by paper and sending your return through the mail (you may want to double check to make sure you didn’t make any errors inputting your financial account information). But remember, paper returns tend to move through processing more slowly.
Recommended: How Long Does Direct Deposit Take?
6. Open a Bank Account If You Don’t Have One
If you just read the step above and thought you can’t use direct deposit because you don’t have a bank account, this could be the moment to set one up. Perhaps you haven’t gotten around to opening a checking or savings account. Now is a great moment to open one. Many online banks can guide you through the application and opening process online, from your home, in a minimal amount of time. This can be an excellent move as you prepare for tax season.
If you were previously turned down for a bank account, you might want to look into what are known as second chance accounts. Offered by some banks and credit unions, these may not have all the features of conventional accounts, but they can give you a good landing pad for your tax refund via direct deposit.
Recommended: What Are the Different Types of Taxes?
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When Can I Expect My Tax Refund?
As long as taxpayers have e-filed by the deadline and chosen direct deposit, then the refund should hit their account within three weeks. According to the IRS, nine out of 10 refunds arrive in less than 21 days. However, if you file a paper return, the timing will more likely be six to eight weeks.
And, remember, if you file later in the tax season, you might face processing delays. That’s because the volume of returns working their way through the IRS rises significantly. So being an early bird can be among the quickest ways to get your refund.
Recommended: What Is Income Tax Withholding?
Finding Out Where Your Refund Is
Once everything is filed, taxpayers can check their tax refund status on the IRS’s Where’s My Refund? page. This requires inputting your Social Security number or ITIN, filing status, and the exact amount of the refund, which can be found on the tax forms that were submitted.
Can I Track the Status of My Tax Refund?
Taxpayers can check “Where’s My Refund?” starting 24 hours after e-filing.
The site is updated daily, usually at night. The IRS cautions that you may experience delays in getting your refund if you file by mail, or you are responding to a notice from the IRS.
If it’s been more than 21 days and you still haven’t received your refund, you can call the IRS at (800) 829-1040 for help. You may also want to contact the IRS if “Where’s My Refund?” instructs you to do so.
Can You Get Your Tax Refund Back the Same Day?
Unfortunately, there is currently no way to get a tax refund back the same day. The speediest timing tends to be closer to eight days from e-filing to direct deposit of a refund.
However, if taxpayers are in a bind, some tax preparation services offer 0% interest tax-refund loans. Tax-refund loans, also called “refund advances,” allow you to access your refund early, but you may want to keep in mind that tax preparers typically charge fees for filing tax returns.
Quick Money Tip: Direct deposit is the fastest way to get an IRS tax refund. More than 9 out of 10 refunds are issued in less than 21 days using this free service, plus you can track the payment and even split the funds into different bank accounts.
If taxpayers are in a bind, some tax preparation services offer 0% interest tax refund loans.
If you are paying a tax preparer just to get the advance, you’ll essentially be paying a company in order to access your refund. Consider these points:
• Some providers may charge an additional fee for the advance service.
• These short-term loans range from $200 to $4,000. In some cases, there may be a minimum amount your refund must meet in order to qualify for a refund advance (how much can vary from one company to another).
• You may only get part of your expected refund in advance.
• Some companies may offer to give you a prepaid card with the loan amount on it within 24 hours.
• Once your tax refund is issued, the tax preparer will typically deduct the loan amount from your refund.
Also be aware that you may be offered this kind of quick cash from other non-bank lenders with significant fees. Proceed with caution.
If you’d rather not pay any fees, however, you may also want to look into other options.
• If you have bills that are due, it may be worth calling up your providers or credit card companies to see if they can extend their due date while you are waiting for your refund.
• You might open a 0% interest credit card, such as a balance transfer one, and charge an urgent expense on that card and then pay it off as soon as the refund comes in.
What’s the Best Way to Spend Your Tax Refund?
Finally! Your tax refund has arrived. You may wonder about the best way to use the funds. Yes, it can be tempting to splurge on a weekend away or those new boots you’ve had your eye on, but consider this financially-savvy advice first:
• If you are carrying any high-interest debt, one smart move might be to put your tax refund towards minimizing the debt or, if possible, wiping it out all together. Doing this can help you avoid spending more money on interest charges. It may also help boost your credit score, which may help you qualify for loans and credit cards with lower interest rates in the future.
• Or you might consider using your tax refund to jump-start one of your current savings goals, such as building up an emergency fund, a downpayment on a home, or buying a new car.
For an emergency fund or savings goals you hope to accomplish within the next few years, you may want to put your refund in a high-yield savings account. These options typically offer a higher return than a traditional savings account but allow you easy access your money when you need it.
• Your tax refund can also help you start saving for the longer term, such as retirement or paying for a child’s education. Using a tax refund to buy investments can help you create additional wealth over time to help fund these far-future goals.
To get your tax refund as quickly as possible, it’s a good idea to file early, and, if possible, avoid the mail. That means filing electronically (using the IRS’s free service or tax software, or hiring a tax pro) and signing up for direct deposit when you file.
It’s also wise to keep track of your refund on the IRS site and reach out to the agency if you haven’t received your refund within three weeks.
How can I receive my tax refund sooner?
To receive your tax refund as soon as possible (which typically means within three weeks of filing), file electronically and request that the refund be paid by direct deposit.
Is direct deposit faster than mail for tax refunds?
Direct deposit will typically save time versus a check sent by mail in terms of tax refunds. If you file your return electronically too, you’ll likely have the shortest possible time from finishing your return to receiving funds that are due to you.
When should you start planning to file your tax return?
Tax season begins in January, with the forms you need having to be sent by January 31st. It’s wise to start getting organized as soon as possible in the New Year to get your return done. If you work with a professional tax preparer, you might want to book them even earlier since January through April will be their busy season.
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