When will I get my 2020 tax refund? Possible dates and how to track your money

We’ll show you how to track your 2020 federal tax refund.

Sarah Tew/CNET

You’ve done the hard part, filing your 2020 tax return. Now comes the harder part, waiting for your tax refund to arrive. If you are also looking for missing stimulus check money you claimed on your tax forms as a Recovery Rebate Credit, the wait may seem even longer. Fortunately, the IRS has a set of tools you can use to track down your refund and missing money after you file your taxes. Check out our chart below to get a better idea of when your refund could arrive.

The tracking information for your payment should be available 24 hours after you file electronically, the IRS said. And if you have yet to file, the IRS recommends that you file online, instead of by paper, as the agency is still experiencing a backlog from last year’s tax due date extension. Be sure to set up direct deposit too. To help ease the filing crunch, Congress asked the IRS to extend the tax filing deadline this year.

You can use two IRS tools to help keep track of your 2020 refund status. Aside from refunds and missing money, this tax season could determine if you’ll be eligible for a third stimulus check of up to $1,400 per person. If so, here’s when that stimulus payment could arrive and how it could be more targeted, possibly disqualifying more people. This story is updated frequently.

These 2 IRS tools can help you track the status of your refund

You need several things on hand to track the status of your tax refund: your Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, your filing status — for example, single, married or head of household — and your exact refund amount in whole dollars, which can be found on your tax return.

Using the IRS tool Where’s My Refund, enter your Social Security number or ITIN, your filing status and your exact refund amount, then press Send. If you entered your information correctly, you’ll be taken to a page that shows the status of your refund. If not, you may be asked to verify your personal tax data and try again. If all the information looks correct, you’ll need to enter the date you filed your taxes, along with how you filed — either electronically or on paper.

There’s also a mobile app you can use to check your tax refund status called IRS2Go. The IRS updates the data in this tool overnight each day, so if you don’t see a status change after 24 hours or more, check back the next day.

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Here’s what the current status of your tax refund means

When looking at the status of your tax refund in the IRS tool, you will see one of three messages.

  • Received: The IRS now has your tax return and is working on processing it.
  • Approved: The IRS has confirmed the amount of your refund. 
  • Sent: Your refund is now on its way to your bank or in a paper check to your mailbox. (Here’s how to change your address now if you moved.)

When will I get my tax refund? Potential dates listed below

The IRS says it issues most tax refunds within 21 days, but many people will get their refunds far sooner. It can take the IRS longer to send your tax refund if there are any errors, or if you filed a claim for an Earned Income Tax Credit or the Child Tax Credit

But it also depends on how you filed your return. 

For example, if the refund is getting directly deposited into your bank account, it could take an additional five days for your bank to post it to your account. This means if it took the IRS 21 days to issue your check and your bank five days to post it, you may be waiting a total of 26 days to get your money. That’s where tracking your refund comes in handy. 

If it’s being sent by mail, the IRS says it could take six to eight weeks to arrive. Here are some possible dates when you could receive your refund depending on when you filed.

When your tax refund could arrive

If you file on this date This is the soonest This is the latest
Feb 14 Feb 21 Mar 7
Mar 1 Mar 8 Mar 22
Apr 1 Apr 8 Apr 22
Apr 15 (last day to file) Apr 22 May 6
Oct 15 (last day with extension) Oct 22 Nov 5

Should you call the IRS to check your tax refund status? Not usually, but it depends

While you can call the IRS to check your status, the agency’s live phone assistance is extremely limited at this time, so you may wait on hold for a while to speak to a representative. Also, the IRS says you should only call if it’s been 21 or more days since you filed your taxes online or if the Where’s My Refund tool tells you to contact the IRS.

For more information about your taxes, here’s when the 2021 deadline is to file your tax returnhow to claim missing stimulus money on your taxes and the real reason you should sign up for direct deposit on your 2020 taxes.