Where's Your Tax Refund? How to Check With the IRS and Your State

The 2019 tax-filing season is expected to be delayed

Illustration of a tax refund process. The Balance

It's really very easy to check on the status of a tax refund from the Internal Revenue Service or from a state tax department—assuming you've filed your tax return and the IRS has accepted it. That's most likely going to take a little longer in 2019, however.

As of December 2018, the official opening of the 2019 tax-filing season was expected to be delayed, and the IRS had not yet announced a date when it would begin to accept 2018 tax returns.

What's the Holdup?

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) turned a good many tax provisions inside out and upside down when it went into effect in January 2018, and even the IRS is scrambling to find its feet. Additionally, a new tax 1040 form goes into effect for 2018 returns, and that's expected to create a bit of confusion as well.

As a result, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) announced in September 2018 that taxpayers are probably going to have to be patient about filing their 2018 returns.

The TIGTA statement says that "a shortened delivery cycle, high volume of changes, and missed deadlines increase the risk of a delayed start of the 2019 filing season."

In short, numerous tax changes mean serious updates to IRS computer technology. Those updates were running behind schedule as of September 2018. The original deadline was April 30, 2018, but that was missed. A new deadline of June 1, 2018, was assigned, but that came and went without updates being completed as well.

And if you can't file your return because the IRS isn't accepting them yet, the timing of any refund that you're entitled to will be pushed back as well.

How to Check the Status of a Federal Refund After Filing

When you do finally file your tax return, you can check your refund's status at the IRS Where's My Refund? Web page, or from your smartphone at IRS2Go. The app is available for Android and iOS devices.

You can call the IRS Refund Hotline at 1-800-829-1954 if you prefer to do things the good, old-fashioned way. It's a toll-free number.

The IRS updates their computer systems once a day, usually at night, but that status might be iffy in 2019 as well because the IRS is experiencing some significant manpower shortages.

Information relating to your federal refund can 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, according to IRS Publication 2043.

Typical Processing Times for Federal Refunds

The IRS typically issues tax refunds within 21 days of receiving the tax return, if the tax return was filed electronically. It issues refunds in approximately six to eight weeks for paper returns that are mailed to the IRS for manual processing. For amended returns, the IRS processes refunds resulting from amended returns in about eight to 12 weeks.

Refunds involving the adoption tax credit are processed in about 14 weeks because the IRS performs additional processing and verification of the adoption credit.

Non-resident aliens may have to wait up to six months to receive their refund if they claimed a refund of taxes withheld on Form 1042-S.

There's no word yet as to whether these typical timeframes will be lengthened as well.

Common Reasons for Delay: Processing Backlogs

Refunds often take longer to process when the IRS is receiving a higher than normal volume of tax returns, and that could happen in 2019 if the delayed filing season results in an immediate deluge of filed returns. Tax returns filed on paper, including amended returns and tax returns that are required to be filed on paper, can take longer for the IRS to process when the agency gets backlogged.

Incorrect Bank Information

It's possible that the IRS sent the 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 happens when the bank account number and the routing transit number on your tax return are different than your actual bank numbers. Perhaps you or your tax preparer made a mistake when entering the data. The IRS will send the tax refund to the bank account shown on your tax return.

If the numbers shown on your tax return don't correspond exactly to your bank account information, one of two things might happen.

  • The bank might refuse the deposit and send the refund back to the IRS, and the IRS 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 mistaken account number might belong to an actual account that belongs to someone else, or an account might not exist with that number. In the latter case, the money will just sit there until the bank figures out what to do with the money.

Check your tax return. If your direct deposit information does not match your actual bank information, call the IRS right away to request that your direct deposit be canceled and that your refund be converted to a paper check.

You will probably have to contact the bank to see if it can reverse any incorrect direct deposit. The IRS web page on Refund Inquiries Regarding Incorrect Routing or Account Number offers more information and direction.

The IRS Has to Manually Verify Information

The IRS might need to verify information on your return. This verification process can be delayed when the IRS gets backlogged, such as during the busiest times of the filing season.

Check the Status of Your State Tax Refund

The following states offer online refund status tools: