En español | If you're expecting a federal tax refund from your 2020 return, you're probably checking your mail every day like a forlorn teenager hoping for a valentine. When your love note from the IRS will arrive depends on when you filed, how you filed and what you filed.
First of all, you don't have to sit by the mailbox if you're expecting a paper check. You can go to IRS.gov/refunds to check the status of your refund via its automated “Where's My Refund?” system. You can also use the IRS2Go app on your smartphone. You'll need your Social Security number, your filing status (single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household, qualifying widow[er]) and the exact amount of the refund you're expecting from your tax return. The IRS updates the information once a day, usually overnight.
You can start checking with the IRS within 24 hours if you filed electronically, or within four weeks if you sent your return by mail. Whether you check on your computer or through the app, you'll be able to follow your return as it snakes through the system. You'll get either a message that says the return has been received or processed and, finally, whether the refund has been issued.
The IRS says it issues 9 out of 10 refunds within 21 days. If you file electronically and opt for direct deposit in your bank account — the fastest route to a refund — check with the IRS if it doesn't arrive within 21 days. If you filed by mail and get a paper check, your refund may take up to eight weeks to arrive.
You can split your refund between up to three accounts, including an individual retirement account. You can also use it to purchase up to $5,000 in U.S. Savings Bonds. You can use your tax software to do it electronically or use IRS Form 8888, Allocation of Refund PDF (including Savings Bond Purchases) if you file a paper return. If you want the IRS to deposit your refund into just one account, use the direct deposit line on your tax form.
Amended returns from prior years can take 12 weeks or longer for the IRS to process. You can follow your amended return's process with the “Where's My Amended Return?” tool on the IRS website.
Common reasons for tax refund delays
What could possibly go wrong? The most likely explanation for a late refund is that that you made an error on your return, or that your return was incomplete. The IRS will notify you by mail if it needs more information to process your return. (Please note: The IRS will not call you about a routine tax problem. Scammers love to pretend they are calling from the IRS.)
Speaking of scammers, another possibility is that a scammer has filed a false claim in your name. If you get an IRS notice by mail about a false filing, respond immediately. Do the same if you get a message about fraud from the “Where's My Refund?” system. You may have to fill out Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit.
The IRS may reduce your refund if you owe past-due federal tax, state income tax, state unemployment compensation debts, child support, spousal support or other federal nontax debts, such as student loans. You'll get a notice in the mail about the changes.
Your refund may be delayed if you qualify for the earned income tax credit (EITC) or the additional child tax credit (ACTC), both of which are aimed at low- and moderate-income filers. The IRS can't issue EITC or ACTC refunds before mid-February. The IRS says most of these refunds will be in bank accounts by the first week of March, if the filer has chosen direct deposit.
What about your state tax return status? OnLine Taxes has a rundown.