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Here's When Your Tax Refund Should Arrive

How to determine when to expect your refund.


Depending on whom you ask, tax season is either winding down or ramping up and coming down to the wire. For the proactive taxpayers out there who have already filed, the next question you must be asking is: Where is my tax refund? If you're due a check from the government for a few thousand dollars, it's perfectly understandable that you're anxious to know where your money is.

Fortunately for us, the IRS has tools to help you find the location of your refund. They include the Where's My Refund? tool and the IRS2Go mobile app. To use those tools, you'll need to know your Social Security number, filing status and the exact amount of your refund. They use this information to prove you are who you say you are – otherwise anyone could check your rebate.

[See: 7 Most-Missed Tax Deductions and Credits.]

The IRS says that 90 percent of federal tax refunds are issued within 21 days. Refund information is generally available within 24 hours after the IRS acknowledges receipt of your e-filed tax return or four weeks after the filing of a paper return. The Where's My Refund? tool has a tracker that allows the taxpayer to see whether his or her refund is in one of three phases: "Return Received," "Refund Approved" and "Refund Sent."

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E-filing your return and requesting your refund through direct deposit is the quickest way to receive your refund, according to the IRS.

Many factors impact the timing of your tax refund, and it may be delayed if it includes errors, lacks information, is impacted by identity theft or fraud or needs further review. Occasionally, a refund is delayed because of a mistake you made, such as a typo, but other reasons for delay may be out of your control. "Sometimes, it can just take longer to process certain returns," says Susan Allen, senior manager for tax practice and ethics for the American Institute of CPAs.

[See: Answers to 7 Burning Tax Questions.]

For example, because of the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act, the IRS cannot process and issue refunds for filers who claim the earned income tax credit or additional child tax credit before mid-February, according to the IRS.

If you receive any correspondence from the IRS requesting more information to help it continue to process your return, experts recommend responding as quickly as you can with the correct information. "Don't be the holdup," Allen says.

Calling an IRS representative will not speed up the arrival of your tax refund, the IRS says. And those phone and in-person workers can only check the status of your refund 21 days after you've filed taxes electronically or six weeks after you've mailed a paper return.

But don't panic, experts say. "Just because you're over the 21-day [mark] doesn't mean your return isn't going to get refunded," says Brian Ashcraft, director of operations for Liberty Tax. "It's just something out of the ordinary."

Some taxpayers also theorize that they can learn the status of their refund by ordering a tax transcript. The IRS cautions against the strategy since a transcript doesn't necessarily reflect the amount or timing of a refund.

If you're wondering where your refund is, double-check that your bank account information was copied properly onto your tax return, says Chris Hardy, enrolled agent and managing director at Paramount Tax and Accounting in Suwanee, Georgia. Transposing two numbers or making another silly mistake may derail your deposit, causing the IRS to send your refund check in the mail, which will take longer.

[See: 10 Smart Ways to Spend Your Tax Refund.]

If you're concerned about the timing of the arrival of your tax refund, it might be worth questioning why you're so reliant on speedy recovery of that cash each year. Adjusting your withholding on your W-4 can help you keep more money in your paycheck and reduce the amount you're owed at tax time, meaning that you might be less dependent on quick refunding of your money. "I'm a big fan of actually owing with my return," Allen says. "I'd rather have my money and not let the government have that money."

Updated on April 9, 2018: This article was originally published on March 27, 2012, and has been updated to include new information.

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