How to Check Your Tax Refund Status Online (And Trace Your Refund)
Most returns are issued within three weeks
If you know you're getting a tax refund, waiting for it to make its way to your bank account can be tough. Maybe you're strapped for cash, and every day matters. Or maybe you're going to pay down debt, pay for a home renovation project, or put it straight into your emergency fund.
Luckily, the Internal Revenue Service has an online tool that easily checks on the status. If a refund doesn't arrive in the time frame you're expecting; there's a procedure for tracing missing refunds. Here's what you need to know.
"Where's My Refund?" Online Tool
Due to closures and staffing shortages stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, the IRS is strongly discouraging you from filing a paper tax return. Paper returns won't be processed until processing centers are re-opened, according to the IRS.
To check the status of your refund, go to Where's My Refund? on the IRS website. This tool is updated every 24 hours (usually overnight). You'll need three pieces of information:
- Your Social Security number or Employer Identification Number as used on the return
- Filing status (i.e., single, head of household, married filing jointly, married filing separately)
- The exact refund amount as filed on the return
When you plug this information in, you'll be redirected to a Refund Status Results screen. This screen shows you where your refund is concerning three stages:
- Return Received
- Refund Approved
- Refund Sent
If your refund has been approved, you should see an estimated date for deposit into your bank account. There should also be a separate date for when you should contact your bank if your refund has not been received.
You can't use the Where's My Refund? tool to get information about your 2020 stimulus check, referred to as an economic impact payment. Instead, use the Get My Payment tool.
IRS2Go Mobile App
You can access the Where's My Refund tool from your laptop or desktop computer. If you prefer to use your mobile device, use IRS2Go. This app is available as a free download on iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon. You can use the app to:
- Check your refund status
- Make a payment if you owe taxes
- Get free tax help
- Retrieve security codes for certain online IRS services
The IRS made more than 111 million tax refunds in 2019, with the average refund being $2,869. (Overall, more than 150 million individual tax returns were processed.)
Calling the IRS
Even under normal circumstances, the IRS asks that you not call to check on your refund status unless it's been three weeks (21 days) since you've filed electronically or six weeks since you've mailed your paper return. (Unless the Where's My Refund? tool tells you to call.) But due to the coronavirus pandemic, live phone representatives aren't available. You can access information about your refund on an automated line by calling call 800-829-1954.
Tracing a Refund Check That Has Gone Missing
Direct deposit—the electronic transfer of funds directly into your bank account—is the safest method of getting your refund. You don't need to worry about a paper check getting lost in the mail, misplaced once you have it in hand, or stolen. Keep in mind the IRS doesn't allow more than three direct deposits into the same bank account per tax year.
If you prefer a paper check for some reason, there is a process if you lose it or it goes missing. You can ask the IRS to trace it by calling (800) 829-1954, or by filling out Form 3911. (Note that married couples who filed jointly need to start with the form).
The IRS will determine if the check was cashed. If it wasn't, then the agency will issue a replacement check. If it were cashed, the agency would create a claims package that includes a copy of the endorsed, cashed check. Following a review of the information (including the signature on the back of the cashed check), the agency will decide whether or not to issue a replacement check. Expect this process, which is run through the U.S. Bureau of the Fiscal Service, to take about six weeks.
If you're waiting on a direct deposit refund and the anticipated deposit date has passed, check with your bank to see if the refund has been received. If you've incorrectly entered your bank account number or routing information when filing, that could cause your refund to go astray. If the refund hasn't posted to the IRS system, you can request that the direct deposit be stopped.
However, be aware that the IRS can't compel a bank to redirect refunds deposited to the wrong account in error. If that occurs, you may have to pursue the matter—through a civil suit—with the bank—or the owner of the erroneous account to recover the money.
What If You Filed an Amended Return?
Sometimes, you may have to amend your tax return. For example, you may have overlooked a key income statement or forgotten to claim a valuable deduction. In those instances, amending your return may be necessary to calculate the correct amount of taxes owed or the refund due to you.
If you filed an amended return, you could track its status through the IRS website. Just plug in your Social Security number, date of birth, and zip code. An amended return can take up to three weeks to show up in the IRS system after you send it, and another 16 weeks to process it. So, you may need to be patient as you wait out the arrival of your refund.
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