Waiting for the IRS to process your federal tax return? You might be wondering how long it takes for your tax return to come back. If you file electronically, your tax return will usually be processed within 21 days. A paper return can take six weeks or longer. If you include direct deposit information, your refund will come back much faster.
If you’re concerned because your federal tax return is delayed, you can check its status online or speak to an IRS representative. Keep reading to learn what’s going on behind the scenes at the IRS with your tax return and what factors may affect when you’ll see your refund.
How Long the IRS Takes to Process Your Taxes
The main factor affecting when you get your tax return back is how long the IRS takes to process your information. Processing time will vary depending on whether you file an electronic or paper return. On average, processing for e-file returns takes less than 21 days, whereas paper returns can take more than six weeks.
If you want to get your tax refund early, it’s best to file electronically, include direct deposit information, and file early in the tax season.
How Long a Tax Refund Typically Takes
Once your return is submitted to the IRS, processing can be broken down into three stages: return accepted, refund approved, and refund sent.
For electronic returns, you will typically see an email from the IRS within 24 hours confirming that your return has been accepted. For paper returns, you can expect notification in about four weeks. The acceptance stage just means the IRS has verified your personal information and checked that your dependents haven’t been claimed by someone else.
Next, the IRS will take a closer look at the information you’ve provided and either approve it or send a letter by mail asking for a correction or more information. This is the part that takes less than 21 days if you’ve e-filed.
Paper returns take longer because they must be manually uploaded by a human. Once uploaded, the information you provide can then be compared to data in the IRS system. However, submitting a paper return isn’t the only factor that can slow down a refund.
Factors That Could Slow Down Your Refund
If your return was filed electronically more than 21 days ago and you haven’t seen your refund yet, there could be a number of reasons for the delay, including:
• The return has incorrect or incomplete information
• Your personal info has potentially been used in identity theft or fraud
• The child tax credit or recovery rebate credit may need to be corrected
• The return qualifies for an additional child tax credit, earned income tax credit, or injured spouse allocation (form 8379)
• Your bank or credit union needs additional time to post the refund to your account
If the IRS needs more information or wants a corrected return, they will contact you via mail. Many issues can be quickly resolved, especially if your finances are organized, as in a budget planner app. In the event that you owe money, the IRS will work with you to develop a payment plan. A debt payoff planner can also help you determine how you can pay your outstanding taxes comfortably and quickly.
How to Track the Progress of Your Refund
The IRS offers two ways you can check the status of your refund: online or with a representative. An online tool called “Where’s my refund?” allows you to check the status of your federal return. You’ll need the following information on hand:
• Social security number
• Filing status (Single, married–filing joint, married–filing separate, head of household, qualifying widower)
• Refund amount
After inputting this information, you should be able to see whether your return has been accepted, processed, or sent back to you.
The IRS also has representatives who can research the status of your refund, either by phone (1-800-829-4477) or in person at a taxpayer assistance center. Note that the IRS probably won’t be able to give you much information if you e-filed less than 21 days earlier or by paper less than six weeks earlier.
As with the online checker, you’ll need to provide the representative with your social security number, filing status, and the refund amount you expect.
What to Do if Your Refund Arrives and Has a Mistake
If you receive your refund and realize there’s a mistake, you can file an amended return to correct it. Keep in mind, you can’t electronically file an amended return; you must send it by mail.
Some mistakes are identified by the IRS. In that event, you’ll receive a letter in the mail explaining the issue and how to respond.
If you’re still unsure of what to do, the IRS offers a hotline where you can ask for guidance.
• Individual taxpayers: 800-829-1040 (TTY/TDD 800-829-4059)
• Business taxpayers: 800-829-4933
How Long the IRS Has to Audit Your Taxes
If the IRS needs to review your tax return in more depth, you may be audited. Generally, the IRS tries to initiate audits as soon as they identify an issue with your tax return, but they may go back as far as three years. In cases where the error is substantial, they can audit up to six years of prior tax returns.
If you file electronically, your tax return will usually be processed within 21 days. A paper return can take six weeks or longer. If you include direct deposit information, your refund will come back much faster.
Tax season can be easier with proper planning and the right money tracker tools. That’s where SoFi Relay comes in. You can track your spending, monitor your credit report, and set goals for paying off debt. When it’s time to file your tax return, you already have your information organized in one place.
Take control of your finances with SoFi Relay.
When can I expect my 2021 tax refund?
According to the IRS, nine out of 10 tax returns are processed within 21 days. To expedite the process, you can file your return electronically and include direct-deposit information. Paper returns are generally processed within 6 weeks.
How long does it take to get your tax refund direct deposit?
Most taxpayers who e-file and include direct-deposit info receive their refund in 21 days. If you submitted a paper return with direct-deposit info, you can expect your refund within 6 weeks.
How long does it take taxes to be returned?
Most taxpayers who e-file can expect refunds within 21 days. If you file via paper return, expect processing to take six weeks or more.
Photo credit: iStock/Baris-Ozer
Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.
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