Where is my income tax refund? How to track your tax return money

The IRS has tools for you to keep tabs on the status of your tax refund. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Tax Day is now only two weeks away, falling on May 17 this year. That means the time is getting shorter for you to file your 2020 taxes or request an extension. On the flipside, if you’ve already filed but haven’t received your income tax refund yet, you can start tracking its status with two IRS refund-status tools.

These IRS tools will let you know if the IRS has received your tax return, if it’s processing it and when your refund was sent. You can use them if you claimed missing stimulus money as a Recovery Rebate Credit on your 2020 taxes. If your third stimulus check is still a no show, the agency has tools for you to track the status of that, too. 

We’ll explain how to use these tools to track down your refund and estimate when it’ll arrive. Also, here’s what we know about filing an amended tax formCOVID-related credits and benefits and a possible fourth stimulus check. If you received unemployment benefits in 2020, you could qualify for a tax exemption and get extra money with your refund. If you have kids, you’ll want to know about child tax credit payments, including how much money you could get. Plus, you can claim more expenses for child care. This story was recently updated. 

How to track your 2020 income tax refund status with the IRS

To track the status of your tax refund, you need several things on hand: Your Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, your filing status — single, married or head of household — and your refund amount in whole dollars, which you can find on your tax return. Also, make sure it’s been at least 24 hours before you try tracking your refund.

Using the IRS tool Where’s My Refund, enter your SSN or ITIN, your filing status and your exact refund amount, then press Submit. If you entered your information correctly, you’ll be taken to a page that shows your refund status. 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 whether you filed electronically or on paper.

The IRS also has a mobile app, called IRS2Go, that checks your tax refund status. The IRS updates the data in this tool overnight, so if you don’t see a status change after 24 hours or more, check back the following day.

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Tax return status messages you’re seeing

Both the IRS tools (online and mobile) will show you one of three messages to explain your tax return status.

  • Received: The IRS now has your tax return and is working to process it.
  • Approved: The IRS has processed your return and confirmed the amount of your refund, if you’re owed one.
  • Sent: Your refund is now on its way to your bank via direct deposit or as a paper check to your mailbox. (Here’s how to change your address on file if you moved.)

Tax refund wait time: Some could see delays

The IRS usually issues tax refunds within 21 days, and many people get their refunds much sooner. However, this year, the IRS is facing delays due to a variety of complications, and some taxpayers are expected to face longer wait times to receive their payments. 

If there are any errors, it might take the agency longer to process and issue your tax refund. The same goes for people who filed a claim for an earned income tax credit or the child tax credit. (Here’s who qualifies for the child tax credit.)

The date you get your tax refund also depends on how you filed your return. For example, with refunds going into your bank account via direct deposit, it could take an additional five days for your bank to post it to your account. This means if it took the IRS the full 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. 

If you submitted your tax return by mail, the IRS says it could take six to eight weeks for your tax refund to arrive. That’s where tracking your refund comes in handy. Here are some possible dates when you could receive your refund if file electronically, depending on when you filed.

When your tax refund could arrive, if no additional delay

If you file or filed on this date This is the soonest This is the latest
March 1 March 8 March 22
April 1 April 8 April 22
April 15 April 22 May 6
May 17 (last day to file) May 24 June 7
Oct. 15 (last day with extension) Oct. 22 Nov. 5

Several reasons your tax refund is late

The IRS has a list of reasons your refund could potentially be held up.

  • Your tax return has errors.
  • It’s incomplete.
  • Your refund has been affected by identity theft or fraud.
  • You filed for the earned income tax credit or additional child tax credit.
  • Your return needs further review.
  • Your return includes Form 8379 (PDF), injured spouse allocation — this could take 14 weeks to process.

Should you contact the IRS if your tax refund is late? 

While you can technically 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 2020 taxes, here’s how to claim missing stimulus money on your taxes and everything to know about the third stimulus check.