You can wait at your mailbox for your tax refund to snail-mail its way to your address, but that can be frustrating and painful if you need the money. Fortunately, the Internal Revenue Service can use electronic direct deposit for some or all of your federal tax refund.
Eight out of 10 taxpayers elect this option, and it's straightforward.
How to Request Direct Deposit
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) stressed in December 2020 that all tax returns should be filed electronically during the coronavirus pandemic. Paper return processing continues to be delayed due to limited staffing. You can elect direct deposit for a refund, whether you file electronically or send in a paper return, however.
You can request a direct deposit right on your 1040 tax return if you want the money sent to just one account. Indicate your bank's routing transit number, your bank account number, and the type of account—checking or savings—on lines 35b, 35c, and 35d of your 2020 Form 1040.
The account can be in your name, in your spouse's name if you're married, or in joint names if you hold the account with your spouse.
You can also use Form 8888 to split your refund among up to three different bank accounts. Form 8888 allows you to use your refund to purchase U.S. Savings bonds, or you can choose to have the money sent to your Individual Retirement Account (IRA).
The IRS processes most refunds in less than 21 days. You can use the Where's My Refund? tool to check on the status of your refund.
Triple-Check Your Bank Account Information
The IRS isn't responsible for any errors you might make when entering your bank account information on your return or Form 8888. The agency can't attempt to cancel the payment and send a second refund to the correct account.
Paper refunds are covered by the Check Forgery Insurance Fund (CFIF), which settles non-receipt claims but does not cover refunds issued via direct deposit.
If You Make a Mistake
The IRS might catch some mistakes, such as an omitted number that makes the account or routing number one digit short. Your return won't pass the validation check in that case, so you'll automatically receive a paper check by mail instead. The same will occur if your bank refuses the deposit for some reason.
Have your spouse, partner, or a trusted friend verify your information if you need to be sure.
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 if you catch an error before it has processed your refund deposit, but keep in mind that the agency is experiencing staffing shortages during the coronavirus pandemic.
If Your Refund Goes to the Wrong Bank Account
Contact the bank where your refund was deposited if the routing number you indicated on your return was incorrect. 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 whether you can persuade them to send the refund check back to the IRS, then call the IRS to alert it that the deposit will be coming back. Taxpayers in that position might also want to consult with an attorney 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 less-than-reputable tax preparers have altered direct deposit bank information to divert funds to their own accounts. That is considered fraud, and you should contact an attorney to review your options for legal action if it happens to you.
About That Stimulus Payment
Your 2020 stimulus checks should have been issued automatically through direct deposit if your 2018 or 2019 tax returns were sent to you that way (if you were eligible for the payment). The IRS provides an online tool you can use to check your payment status if you didn't receive it.
NOTE: Tax laws change periodically. You should always consult with a tax professional for the most up-to-date advice. The information contained in this article is not intended as tax advice, and it is not a substitute for tax advice.