Waiting for your tax refund to find its way to your mailbox or into your bank account can be tough if you're strapped for cash and really need the money, or even if you're just looking forward to spending it. You want to know when you can realistically expect to receive it. The IRS provides an online tool that lets you easily check on your refund's status.
There's a procedure for tracking down missing refunds as well if your refund doesn't arrive within the time frame you're expecting.
The "Where's My Refund?" Online Tool
The IRS indicates that it issues most refunds within three weeks if you choose direct deposit and you've e-filed your tax return. Refunds can take six to eight weeks if you file a paper return.
The IRS urges taxpayers to file electronically with direct deposit as soon as they have the information they need. This will help speed refunds during the ongoing public health and economic crisis in 2021.
Go to Where's My Refund? on the IRS website to check the status of your refund. The tool is updated every 24 hours. You'll need some information at your fingertips:
- Your Social Security number or Employer Identification Number as it appears on your tax return
- The filing status you claimed on your return: single, head of household, married filing jointly, married filing separately, or qualifying widow(er)
- The exact refund amount as shown on your tax return
You'll be redirected to a Refund Status Results screen when you plug in this information. This screen should say:
- Return received, or
- Refund approved, or
- Refund sent
You should see an estimated date for deposit into your bank account if your refund has been approved. There should also be a separate date for when you should contact your bank if you haven't received your refund by then.
You can't use the Where's My Refund? tool to get information about your 2020 stimulus check, also referred to as the "economic impact payment." Use the Get My Payment tool instead if you're still expecting one of those checks.
The IRS2Go Mobile App
You can access the Where's My Refund? tool from your laptop or desktop computer, or you can use IRS2Go if you prefer to use your mobile device. This app is available as a free download on iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon. You can use it to:
- Check your refund status
- Make a payment if you owe taxes
- Get free tax guidance
- Retrieve security codes for certain online IRS services
The IRS issued more than 111 million tax refunds in 2019, with the average being $2,869. Overall, more than 150 million individual tax returns were processed.
Calling the IRS
The IRS asks that you don't call to check on your refund status unless it's been at least three weeks (21 days) since you've filed electronically, or six weeks since you've mailed in your paper return, unless the Where's My Refund? tool tells you to do so.
You can access information about your refund on an automated line by calling toll-free at 800-829-1954.
Tracing a Refund Check That's Gone Missing
There's a process in place in case you lose your paper check or if it goes missing. You can ask the IRS to trace it by calling 800-829-1954, or by filling out Form 3911, "Taxpayer Statement Regarding Refund."
The IRS will determine whether the check was cashed, and it will issue a replacement check if it wasn't. Otherwise, it will 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 to issue a replacement check. This process can take about six weeks.
Direct deposit—the electronic transfer of funds directly into your bank account—is the safest way to get your refund. You won't have to worry about a paper check getting lost in the mail, stolen, or misplaced once you have it in hand. But keep in mind that the IRS doesn't allow more than three direct deposits into the same bank account per tax year.
Check with your bank to see whether the refund has been received if you're waiting on a direct deposit, and the anticipated date has passed. Incorrectly entering your bank account number or routing information on your tax return could cause your refund to go astray, so double-check that information. You can request that the deposit be stopped if the refund hasn't yet posted to the IRS system.
The IRS can't compel a bank to redirect refunds that were deposited to the wrong bank account. You might have to pursue the matter with the bank or with the owner of the erroneous account to recover the money, possibly by filing a lawsuit.
What if You Filed an Amended Return?
You might have to amend your tax return if you overlooked a key income statement or forgot to claim a valuable deduction. Amending your return might be necessary to calculate the correct amount of taxes owed or the refund that's due to you. You can still track the refund's status through the IRS website if you file an amended return.
Just plug in your Social Security number, your date of birth, and your 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, so you might need to be patient as you wait out the arrival of your refund.