How to Get Your Tax Refund by Direct Deposit

It's Fast and Convenient, But Mistakes Can Be Made

A check marked "direct deposit" on desk next to a keyboard and a telephone
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You can wait at your mailbox for a tax refund check to snail-mail it's way to your address, but any delay can be frustrating, especially if you need the money. Fortunately, the Internal Revenue Service lets you have some or all of your federal tax refund directly deposited to your bank account electronically. All you have to do is ask. 

Eight out of 10 taxpayers elect this option, which is very simple. Here's what you need to know.

If you received a refund through direct deposit for either the 2018 or 2019 tax years, your 2020 stimulus check would automatically be issued the same way, assuming you’re eligible. Use this IRS online tool for the status of your payment or to provide the agency with your bank account information.

How to Request Direct Deposit

The IRS says all returns filed during the coronavirus pandemic should be filed electronically. Paper returns won't even be processed until processing centers can reopen. But, you can elect direct deposit whether you typically file electronically or send in a paper return.

If you want the money sent to just one account, you can request a direct deposit right on your 1040 tax return. On your return, you must indicate your bank's routing transit number, your bank account number, and the type of account—checking or savings. The account must be in your name, your spouse's name if you're married, or in joint—both—names, if you hold the account with your spouse. Enter your bank information on lines 21a, 21b, 21c, and 21d of Form 1040.

Or, you can use Form 8888 to split your refund among up to three different accounts. Form 8888 also allows you to use your refund to purchase U.S. Savings Bonds, or you can choose to have the money sent to your IRA.

The IRS processes most refunds in less than 21 days. To check on the status of a refund, you can call the IRS at 800-829-1954 or use the Where's My Refund? tool. 

Triple Check Your Bank Account Information

The IRS is not responsible for any errors you might make when entering your bank account information on your return or Form 8888. It has no liability if your refund goes to John Doe because you transposed numbers or entered the wrong digits. Moreover, the IRS will not cancel the payment of your refund and send a second payment to the correct account. 

Make very, very sure the information you've entered is correct before submitting it to the IRS. Paper refunds are covered by the Check Forgery Insurance Fund (CFIF). The CFIF is a fund that settles non-receipt claims. Refunds issued via direct deposit are not covered by the government's CFIF.

If You Make a Mistake

The IRS might catch some mistakes, such as an omitted number, so the account or routing number is one digit short. In this case, your return won't pass the validation check, and you'll automatically receive a check by mail instead. The same applies if your bank refuses the deposit for some reason.

If you catch an error before the IRS has processed your refund deposit, you can typically call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, to stop the direct deposit. 

During the social distancing requirements triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, there are no IRS phone lines staffed by customer service representatives. Check the IRS's coronavirus webpage for updates. 

If Your Refund Is Sent to the Wrong Bank Account

If the routing number you indicated on your return is incorrect, contact the bank at which your refund was deposited. (You can identify the bank by looking up the routing number you inadvertently entered on the IRS website.) 

Reach out to the ACH manager at that bank to see if you can persuade them to send the refund check back to the IRS, then call the IRS to alert them that the deposit will be coming back. Taxpayers in this position might want to consult with an attorney as well to review their options. Follow up by filing Form 3911, the Taxpayer Statement Regarding Refund, if the bank doesn't respond after two weeks.

If Your Tax Preparer Alters Your Bank Info

The National Taxpayer Advocate has indicated that some tax preparers are altering the direct deposit bank information to divert funds into their accounts. This action is considered fraud. Tax refunds should be directly deposited only into a taxpayer's bank account.

Contact an attorney to review your options for legal action to recover your refund if this happens to you.

The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services and advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal.

Article Sources

  1. Internal Revenue Service: "Get Your Refund Faster: Tell IRS to Direct Deposit your Refund to One, Two, or Three Accounts." Accessed April 16, 2020.

  2. Internal Revenue Service. "IRS Urges Taxpayers to Use Electronic Options; Outlines Online Assistance." Accessed April 16, 2020.

  3. Internal Revenue Service. "Form 8888 Allocation of Refund (Including Savings Bond Purchases)." Accessed April 16, 2020.

  4. Internal Revenue Service. "Refund Inquiries 18." Accessed April 16, 2020.