Where’s my 2020 tax refund? 2 ways to track it, and when it could arrive

We’ll explain how to track your 2020 federal tax refund online using two different tools.

Sarah Tew/CNET

You can track your stimulus check, but did you also know you can track your 2020 tax return? You still have a month to get your taxes filed by the April 15 deadline, but whenever you do submit your filings, you can use an IRS tool to show you if your tax return has been processed, and track any refund you might get. With 7 million tax returns delayed or “in limbo,” according to The Washington Post, this tool is important in setting your expectations.

As usual, a tax refund gives you back any money you overpaid throughout the year (such as through your company’s withholding or a quarterly estimate). This year, your refund could also include any missing stimulus check money you didn’t receive — as part of a Recovery Rebate Credit claim you make on your taxes this year. 

Just 24 hours after filing your tax return, you can start tracking your refund status online. Our chart below can help you determine when your refund would typically arrive. We suggest filing your taxes online if you haven’t already. E-filing is more convenient both for you and the IRS (the agency is asking people to avoid sending in a paper return this year). We also recommend setting up direct deposit to speed up your refund arrival. In addition, here’s how tax season could affect the new $1,400 stimulus checks going out now (calculate your stimulus payment total). This story was recently updated. 

There are 2 methods to track your tax 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, called IRS2Go, that you can use to check your tax refund status. 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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Received, approved or sent: Decoding what the IRS tax return status means

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 through direct deposit, or as a paper check to your mailbox. (Here’s how to change your address now if you moved.)

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How long do you have to wait for your tax refund to arrive?

The IRS says it issues most tax refunds within 21 days, but many people will get their refunds much sooner. 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

In addition, the IRS is reportedly facing delays complicated by sending out the stimulus checks now (here’s more on stimulus checks and tax season 2020).

The date you get your tax refund also depends on how you filed your return. 

For example, if the refund is going into your bank account through 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. 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 for your tax refund 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 March 7
March 1 March 8 March 22
April 1 April 8 April 22
April 15 (last day to file) April 22 May 6
Oct. 15 (last day with extension) Oct. 22 Nov. 5

It’s past the ‘latest’ date for my tax refund arrival. When should you call the IRS to check your status? 

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 everything to know about the third stimulus check.

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