Checking on your tax refund begins with filing your tax return, and with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) accepting that return. Finding out about the status of your refund is a simple matter from there. You can access the information on the IRS website or on its mobile app.
You can't submit your return until the official opening of the tax-filing season. The IRS didn't begin accepting 2020 returns until Feb. 12, 2021, which was 16 days later than in 2020.
Plan Ahead for the 2021 Tax Season
There will almost certainly be a few wrinkles when the 2021 filing season for your 2020 tax return begins. The IRS has stated that there are likely to be some processing delays due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, at least for paper tax returns and correspondence. The agency urges taxpayers not to try calling in or to file a second return if there are delays.
The IRS is also recommending that taxpayers stay home and safe for as long as necessary, with a reminder that many tools are available online that can help you avoid mingling with the public in an effort to prepare or mail your tax return. Free File will both prepare and e-file your tax return for you, and it opened again in January 2021.
Your 2020 income must be $72,000 or less to qualify for the Free File free preparation option, but tax forms and e-filing are still available for free if you earn more than that and want to prepare your return yourself.
Check the Status of a Federal Refund
You can check your refund's status at the IRS Where's My Refund? webpage after you've filed your return, or from your smartphone at IRS2Go. The app is available for Android and iOS devices. The IRS updates its computer systems to reflect the current status of returns filed once a day, usually at night, and both the app and the website are available 24/7.
Information relating to your federal refund can normally be available as soon as 24 hours after the IRS receives an electronically filed tax return, or about four weeks after receiving a paper-filed tax return, but again, you can expect paper returns to take a bit longer to process in the 2021 filing season.
Typical Processing Times for Federal Refunds
You can base your expectation of receiving a refund on these typical processing times, assuming that pandemic restrictions ease in 2021:
- The IRS typically issues tax refunds within 21 days of receiving a tax return, if the return is filed electronically.
- It issues refunds in approximately six to eight weeks for paper returns that are mailed to the IRS for manual processing.
- Amended returns can take up to 16 weeks to process.
- Non-residents may have to wait up to six months to receive their refund if they claim a refund of taxes withheld on Form 1042-S.
Delays for the Earned Income and Child Tax Credits
As for refunds, the IRS has also indicated that those resulting from claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit and/or the Additional Child Tax Credit should be issued by the first week in March 2021. These are the refundable credits that the IRS is prohibited by law from releasing until mid-February each year.
The March target date is based on requesting direct deposit of your refund, not a paper check by mail, and it assumes that no problems arise with your tax return.
Refundable credits are susceptible to identity theft, and a lot of taxpayers make errors when claiming them. The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act therefore prohibits the IRS from releasing these refunds until at least mid-February. This gives the agency ample time to ensure that the taxpayers claiming these refunds do indeed qualify for them.
When the IRS Gets Backlogged
Refunds also take longer to process when the IRS is receiving a higher-than-normal volume of tax returns—in other words, at the peak of filing season when everyone is trying to get their tax return in so they can get their hands on their refunds as expeditiously as possible. Other issues can complicate processing as well, such as if the IRS wants to verify information on your return. This verification process can further delay things when the IRS gets backlogged.
Delays Due to Incorrect Bank Information
It's possible that the IRS sent your refund to the wrong account if you've filed your tax return and the Where's My Refund? app indicates that the IRS has sent your refund but it still hasn't shown up in your bank account. This can happen when you've requested direct deposit of your refund, and the bank account number and the routing transit number you entered on your tax return are different from your actual bank numbers. The IRS will send the tax refund to the bank account shown on your tax return.
One of two things can happen if the numbers shown on your tax return don't correspond exactly with your bank account information:
- The bank might refuse the deposit and send the refund back to the IRS, and the agency will then mail the refund to you via paper check.
- The bank will accept the deposit and the refund is deposited to the mistaken account shown on your tax return.
That incorrect account number might be an actual account that belongs to someone else, or it might be that an account with that number doesn't exist. In the latter case, the money will just sit there until the bank figures out what to do with it.
Check your tax return. Call the IRS as soon as possible at 800-829-1040 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday if your direct deposit information doesn’t match up with your actual bank information. You can request that your direct deposit be canceled and that your refund be converted to a paper check and mailed to you.
Contact the bank to see if it can reverse an incorrect direct deposit. Give the bank two weeks or so to do so. You can file IRS Form 3911 to ask that the agency contact the bank on your behalf if you don't get an acceptable response after this time. The bank has 90 days to initiate a trace after being notified of the error by the IRS.
The IRS has been historically prevented by law from taking direct action to get these deposits back from banks, but that changed with the Taxpayer First Act of 2019. You now have some options.
Check the Status of Your State Tax Refund
The following states offer online refund status tools:
- Alabama: Click the "Where's My Refund?" button
- California: Click on "Check Refund." You'll need your Social Security number, ZIP code, the exact amount of your refund, and you'll be asked for the numbers in your address.
- Colorado: Click on the "Revenue Online" link.
- Connecticut: Click on "Check on the Status of Your Refund" found in the blue sidebar.
- District of Columbia: Click on "Check your refund status here."
- Georgia: Click on "Where's My Refund?"
- Idaho: Click on the link for refund status page.
- Iowa: You'll need your Social Security number, your exact refund amount, and the tax year you're looking for.
- Kentucky: The interactive tool to initiate a search can be found at the bottom of the page.
- Louisiana: Click on the "Check Your Income Tax Refund Status" link.
- Massachusetts: The "Check the Status of Your Refund" link can be found at the bottom of the page.
- Minnesota: You must be due a refund and have filed the return within the last 12 months for tax years 2016 or later. You'll be asked to provide your date of birth.
- Missouri: This state's site allows you to check on the status of your return, with a refund issue date "if applicable."
- Montana: Click on "Where's My Refund?"
- New Jersey: This site is limited to 2018 and 2019 tax year returns. Check back for details on 2020 returns because the 2020 filing deadline was delayed in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
- New Mexico: Click on "Where's My Refund?" at the left side of the page.
- New York: Click on "Check Refund Status" box.
- North Carolina
- North Dakota: You'll have to provide your filing status, your Social Security number, and the exact amount of your expected refund.
- Oregon: Click on "Where's my Refund?" near the top of the second column.
- Rhode Island: You'll need your Social Security number, your filing status, and your exact refund amount.
- South Carolina: Click on the “Check Your Refund Status” box at the top left.
- Utah: Click on "Where's My Refund?" toward the bottom of the column of options on the left side of the page.
- Vermont: Click on "Check My Refund Status."
- Virginia: You must wait 72 hours after filing your return electronically, or four weeks after you've mailed in a paper return. You can also call the Automated Refund System at 804-367-2486.
Seven states don't have an income tax: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming. New Hampshire and Tennessee tax only interest and dividend income, not earned income, and Tennessee is repealing even this tax, effective 2021.