Where Is My Tax Refund?

By Kim Franke-Folstad · February 09, 2024 · 11 minute read

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Where Is My Tax Refund?

The IRS says that if you file your return electronically and enroll in direct deposit, you can probably receive any refund you qualify for within three weeks. That speed can be a real upside of getting organized and filing early, especially if you have plans for the funds coming back to you (such as paying for summer vacation plane tickets).

Those who file a paper return, however, will likely have a longer wait. Read on to learn more and manage your expectations, including:

•   How long does it take to get my federal tax refund?

•   When will I get my tax refund?

•   What affects the time it takes to get a tax refund?

•   How can you check on where your tax refund is?

IRS Refund Schedule for Tax Year 2023

For those who are curious about when exactly a refund should arrive for the tax year 2023 (filing began on January 29, 2024), consider this information:

Federal Tax Refunds

In terms of when you will get your federal tax refund, here is a typical timeline after filing:

•   1 to 3 weeks for e-filing with direct deposit

•   4 to 6 weeks for paper filing with direct deposit

•   21 days plus mailing time for e-filing with the check sent by mail

•   4 to 6 weeks or longer plus mailing time for paper filing with the check sent by mail

State Tax Refunds

When it comes to issuing refunds, each state handles things in their own way, on their own timeline, so it can be difficult to generalize.

Typically, a state tax refund can take anywhere from a few days to a few months for processing. If you filed a paper copy vs. electronically, that may lengthen the usual time for refund processing and the arrival of your funds.

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Tax Return Extension

Sometimes, a taxpayer will not be able to file their return by the Tax Day deadline. Perhaps they are missing important tax documents, are experiencing a family or personal emergency, or maybe they just procrastinated. Whatever the case, there is a mechanism in place that allows for an extension.

The IRS allows people to file for a six-month tax extension for submitting their return. However, the extension request, plus any taxes owed, are still due on that April deadline (the 15th or slightly later if it falls on a weekend or holiday).

If you are due a refund, it will be delayed if you submit your tax return late. The volume of tax returns filed late can impact how soon you get your refund.

Form 4868

To request an extension, an individual should file IRS Form 4868. The form captures basic information about the taxpayer, such as name, address, Social Security number (SSN), and how much you believe you owe.

Anyone, regardless of income, can submit this form electronically as part of the IRS’ Free File program.

Recommended: What If I Miss the Tax Filing Deadline?

How Long Does the IRS Take to Process Your Taxes?

The IRS says that it issues more than nine out of 10 refunds in less than 21 days. That said, sometimes the processing of a return can take longer, even if a return was filed electronically.

If a return needs to be reviewed manually, it will likely take longer as well. Factors that can lead to a manual review include incorrect or missing information or identity theft situations. More detail is provided below.

Recommended: Steps to Prepare for Tax Season

Common Tax Refund Delays

If you’re wondering how long does it take to get a tax refund, know that there is not a single, specific timeframe for all taxpayers, and that delays can and do happen.

The IRS cautions visitors to its website not to expect their refund by a certain date. Though most taxpayers typically receive their refund within three weeks, and possibly in even less time if they e-file and choose direct deposit, there are several reasons why a payment might be delayed.

Here are some issues that could cause a holdup:

Filing a Paper Return

Under normal circumstances, the IRS says, it can take several weeks to process a paper Form 1040. Unlike returns that are filed electronically, paper returns must be manually entered into the IRS system.

•   Tax returns are opened in the order they’re received, so if your refund is taking longer than expected, the date you sent your return could be a factor as well.

•   The delivery option you choose for your refund also can affect how quickly you receive your funds. According to the IRS, the fastest way to receive your refund is to combine the direct deposit method with an electronically filed tax return. But taxpayers who prefer a paper return also may be able to speed things up a bit by choosing direct deposit for their refund instead of a paper check.

•   Note: If you e-file, direct deposit is again your fastest path to any refund that’s due (typically one to three weeks), as noted above. If you e-file but request a paper check, that will take a bit longer, often closer to one month.

Providing Incorrect or Incomplete Information

Did you or your spouse forget to sign your return, or did you type in the wrong Social Security number? Returns with missing information or errors can cause extra work for the IRS, which could hold up a refund.

What’s more, the IRS is strengthening its screening process to help fight identity theft, so even the smallest mistake — such as using a different name than what’s on your Social Security card or misreporting what is W-2 income — could slow things down. If the information you provide is wrong or something is missing, you can expect the IRS to contact you for additional documentation or to correct the error.

Claiming Certain Tax Credits

If you’re claiming the additional child tax credit (ACTC) or the earned income tax credit (EITC), the IRS won’t issue your refund before mid-February. A federal law that took effect in 2017 gives the IRS extra time to review those returns, check employers and other information, and detect any possible fraud.

Filing an Amended Return

You may have to amend your return if you find you made an error or there’s a change that affects your income, your income tax bracket, and/or your deductions — and that could delay your refund by several weeks. According to the IRS, it can take up to 20 weeks to process an amended return — even if it was filed electronically.

You can check your return and refund status daily with the IRS’s Where’s My Amended Return tracking tool .

Tax Fraud

A missing refund could be a sign that someone used your personal information to file a fraudulent tax return in your name. If you suspect you may be the victim of tax fraud, the IRS lists several recommendations for what to do next on its Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft web page, and the agency advises potential victims to report their concerns to the Federal Trade Commission.

Existing Government Debt

If you have certain kinds of delinquent debt owed to the federal government, what is known as tax refund offset may occur. This means that an individual’s refund may be partially or completely withheld to satisfy the debt.

You will generally be notified if your refund is being reduced or withheld in this way, and you can dispute the payment with the agency that received it. And if there’s any money left after the offset, you’ll receive it by direct deposit or in a check, depending on what you requested on your tax return.

To ask questions about delinquent debt, you can contact the Treasury Department at 800-304-3107.

Your Refund Went Missing

If you e-filed with third-party tax software or the IRS’s Free File system, you likely received confirmation that your return was received and accepted. If you don’t remember getting a confirmation notice or if you’re concerned because you haven’t heard anything since then, you can check your status with the agency’s Where’s My Refund tool. Some next steps:

•   If the IRS’s Where’s My Refund tool says your refund check was mailed but 28 days or more have passed and you haven’t seen it, you can file a claim online to receive a replacement. (The Where’s My Refund site will show you how.)

•   Even if you opted for direct deposit, it still could take a few days for the money to show up in your account.

•   If you think your refund has gone missing, you may want to call your bank about tracking the deposit, then move on to contacting your tax preparer or the IRS for help.

•   The IRS won’t accept responsibility if it sent a refund but you or your tax preparer wrote the wrong account number on your return. If the IRS notices an error or if your bank rejects the deposit and returns the money to the IRS, the IRS still may end up sending you a check (instead of using a direct deposit).

•   If you entered an account or routing number that belongs to someone else and the financial institution accepted the deposit, you’ll probably have to work with a bank representative to recover the money. The IRS cannot compel the bank to return the refund.

Tracking Your Tax Refund Process

If you are eagerly awaiting your income tax refund, a wise move can be to track its status on the IRS website or through the IRS2GO app.

You can begin checking your refund’s progress as soon as 24 hours after the IRS receives your e-filed return or four weeks after mailing a paper return. And, if everything goes smoothly, you can use the Where’s My Refund tracking tool daily to watch your tax return make progress.

•   To use the Where’s My Refund tracking tool, all you need is your Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), your filing status (single, married filing jointly, etc.), and the exact dollar amount of your expected refund.

•   You may not get all the information you wanted about your refund, but it’s a start. If you can’t get enough intel there, your local IRS office may be able to help.

Tax Refund Mistakes

What about the scenario in which a tax refund arrives but it’s for less than you expected? Consider a couple of possibilities:

•   Your tax return could have contained an error, leading you to think you were due more money than you actually are.

•   You might have had your refund lowered by the Treasury’s Offset Program mentioned above.

In the situation of your refund being less than anticipated, there is likely an explanation provided from the IRS as to why. If you are not satisfied, you can use the methods outlined above to contact the IRS and gain more insight.

Tips for Getting Your Tax Refund Faster

If you’re hoping to get your next refund faster, here are a few steps that might help:

Filing Electronically

As mentioned above, filing electronically vs. filing a paper return can speed up your refund. It can typically shave a week or two off of getting your money back via direct deposit and a month off the time for a refund check to be issued.

Choosing Direct Deposit

The IRS says refunds will generally be received by taxpayers sooner if they have e-filed and selected direct deposit. Even if you prefer mailing in a paper return, you can choose to have your refund deposited into your account.

Providing Accurate Information

Pay attention to every detail as you prepare your taxes. Don’t let a little mistake or an omission of data cause a long delay.

Filing Early

By filing as soon as possible during tax season, you’ll be able to position your return at the front of the line for processing. And by starting early, you’ll give yourself plenty of time to research any tax help you may need along with tips that might apply to you, your business, and your family.

Just remember the point above about returns claiming the ACTC or EITC not being processed until mid-February at the earliest.

The Takeaway

Most tax refunds are issued within one to three weeks if you file electronically and opt for direct deposit of your refund. If you file a paper return or opt for a refund check to be mailed to you, it can lengthen the timeline. In any scenario, the IRS provides tools that can help you track your refund and know where your return is in terms of processing.

If you are due a refund and need a great place to deposit it, you may want to make sure your account offers minimal or zero account fees and a competitive annual percentage rate (APR).

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When will I get my tax refund for 2023?

Your tax refund arrival will depend on when you filed your return, how you filed it, and how you indicated you’d receive your tax refund. Typically, filing electronically with direct deposit is quickest, with the refund arriving within three weeks. If you file electronically with a paper check as the refund, that could take longer since the check has to be mailed. Paper returns can take several weeks, with those requesting refunds via paper check requiring still longer.

What is the 2023 IRS tax refund schedule?

The 2023 tax year season began on January 29, 2024, and the deadline is April 15, 2024. Tax refunds are issued at varying speeds, depending on whether you file electronically or with a paper return, and whether you request your refund be direct-deposited or sent as a check. The fastest option is to file electronically and have the refund direct-deposited. This typically takes three weeks or less.

How long does it take to get your tax refund through direct deposit?

How long it takes to get your refund through direct deposit will vary depending on whether you filed an electronic or paper return. The majority of electronic returns are processed in three weeks or less, with direct deposit happening very soon thereafter. Paper returns, however, can take several weeks or longer, with refunds taking at least that long to hit a taxpayer’s bank account.

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