The IRS is processing unemployment-benefits tax refunds. When can you expect yours?

Americans who got jobless benefits in 2020 and filed taxes early are seeing money back from the IRS. 

Angela Lang/CNET

About 13 million Americans who paid taxes on unemployment compensation are eligible for a big tax break. After some initial delays, the IRS has already processed refunds to 2.8 million people who filed their 2020 tax returns before new rules under the American Rescue Plan had determined some of that income to be tax exempt. 

The exact quantities of these refunds will vary depending on a person’s total earnings and how much income tax they paid on jobless benefits last year. Individual taxpayers can exclude up to $10,200 (as much as $20,400 for married couples filing jointly). The unemployment tax refunds will be sent in batches: The first round will go to single people without dependents. Married couples and taxpayers with dependents should see their IRS money later this summer. 

We’ll explain all the details we know, including how to check on your refund online. You may want to know which states are opting out of $300 bonus unemployment payments and which states are offering return-to-work bonuses. If you’re a parent waiting for your first payment of the enhanced child tax credit on July 15, calculate how much you could get for your family and how to use the upcoming IRS child tax credit portals. This story was updated recently.

What should I know about the unemployment tax break and the IRS refunds? 

The IRS has started sending refunds to taxpayers who received jobless benefits last year and paid taxes on the money. After some frustration with the rollout, more single filers began seeing deposits in their checking accounts starting May 28, with 2.8 million refunds going out the first week of June. The IRS said the next set of refunds will go out in mid-June.

Here’s what to expect:

  • The tax break is for those who earned less than $150,000 in adjusted gross income
  • The $10,200 is the amount of income exclusion for single filers, not the amount of the refund. The amount of the refund will vary per person. 
  • Not everyone will receive a refund. The IRS can seize the refund to cover a past-due debt, such as unpaid federal or state taxes and child support. 
  • Refunds started going out in May and will run through the summer as the agency evaluates tax returns. More complicated returns could take longer to process.
  • The IRS is doing the recalculations in two phases, starting with single filers who are eligible for the up to $10,200 tax break. It will then adjust returns for those married-filing-jointly taxpayers who are eligible for the up to $20,400 tax break.
  • If the IRS determines you are owed a refund on the unemployment tax break, it will automatically send a check.
  • You don’t need to file an amended return to claim the exemption. (Here’s how to track your tax return status and refund online.) Some who used tax software such as TurboTax said they have seen their refund amount change due to the unemployment refund, although they have yet to see a check. 
  • Refunds will go out as a direct deposit if you provided bank account information on your 2020 tax return. Otherwise, the refund will be mailed as a paper check to the address the IRS has on hand.
  • The IRS will send you a notice explaining the corrections within 30 days of when a correction is made.

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How do I check the status of my unemployment tax refund?

The IRS says eligible individuals should’ve received Form 1099-G from their state unemployment agency showing in Box 1 the total unemployment compensation paid in 2020 (if you didn’t you should request one online). Some states may issue separate forms depending on the jobless benefits — for example, if you received federal pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA). 

The IRS online applications, like the Where’s My Refund tool and the Amended Return Status tool, will not provide information on the status of your unemployment tax refund. The IRS also says not to call the agency. 

As far as we know, the easiest way to find out when the IRS processed your refund (and for how much) is by viewing your tax transcript. Here’s how to find it:

1. Visit and log into your account. If you haven’t opened an account with the IRS, this will take some time as you’ll have to take multiple steps to confirm your identity.

2. Once logged into your account, you’ll see the Account Home page. Click View Tax Records.

3. On the next page, click the Get Transcript button.

4. Here you’ll see a drop-down menu asking the reason you need a transcript. Select Federal Tax and leave the Customer File Number field empty. Click the Go button.

5. The following page will show your Return Transcript, Records of Account Transcript, Account Transcript and Wage & Income Transcript for the last four years. You’ll want the 2020 Account Transcript

6. This will open a PDF of your transcript: Focus on the Transactions section. What you’re looking for is an entry listed as Refund issued, and it should have a date in late May or June. 

If you don’t have that, it likely means the IRS hasn’t gotten to your return yet. 

Still to be determined about the IRS unemployment tax break

The IRS has provided some information on its website about taxes and unemployment compensation. We’re still unclear as to how to contact the IRS if there’s a problem with your tax break refund. If a refund has been issued, you should expect a letter from the IRS within 30 days of the adjustment, which’ll tell you if it resulted in a refund or if it was used to offset debt. 

Here’s what we do know about contacting the IRS for stimulus check problems. For more on stimulus payments and relief aid, here is information about the child tax credit for up to $3,600 per child and details on who qualifies.