Where’s My Tax Refund?

  • If you file electronically, you can typically expect to get your federal tax refund within three weeks. 
  • If you file a paper return, processing will take six to eight weeks after your return is received. 
  • There’s a portal on the IRS site where you can check the status of your refund. 
  • See Personal Finance Insider’s picks for the best tax software »

If you’re owed a hefty tax refund from the Internal Revenue Service, you’re probably antsy to get it in your hands as soon as possible. Here’s what you need to know about how tax returns are accepted, processed (and sometimes delayed), and when you’re most likely to get your refund.

Where’s my federal tax refund? 

Here’s what’s going on when you submit your taxes to the IRS.  

What an accepted tax return means

When you e-file a tax return, the IRS completes a basic check of your information before accepting your return. Robert Farrington, founder of The College Investor explains it like this:

“Accepting your tax return simply means that the IRS has looked at your name and Social Security number, and compared to make sure it hasn’t already been filed this year. If it passes that check, your return is allowed in for processing. That’s all ‘accepted by the IRS’ means. This process takes less than 24 hours, and usually happens within a few minutes.” 

Farrington also notes that different

tax software

providers may have different processes for both batching and sending to the IRS, and notifying customers about when their returns are accepted.

What is the IRS actually doing with your return?

Once your tax return has been accepted, it goes into a queue for processing. 

“The best way to think about the IRS is a giant database, and processing your return is simply a series of checks of your data against the data it knows about you already,” Farrington explains. “During this time it looks at all the information you submitted — such as your W2 income, child tax credits, and more — and looks at its records to see if the data matches. If everything looks good (or within a range of what it expects), your return is sent to be approved and then either payment or refund will be processed.”

When to expect your IRS refund

About 90% of electronically filed tax returns are processed within 21 days. Paper returns are processed six to eight weeks after they arrive at the IRS. If you electronically file and provide bank account information to the IRS for direct deposit, you’ll see your refund the quickest.

Why do paper returns take so long? 

Paper returns have to be input manually into the system for processing. Even when the IRS isn’t understaffed in the middle of a pandemic, the process normally takes six to eight weeks. 

“Submitting a paper return circumvents the limited automation that the IRS has in place for cross-referencing returns with information received from third parties,” says Richard Lavinia, chief executive officer and co-founder of Taxfyle. “Paper returns require this information to be inputted by hand and then manually reviewed by an IRS agent.”

What if my return is delayed?

If your return requires additional review, it may take longer than normal to receive your refund. Some circumstances that may delay your refund include:

  • Missing information
  • Errors
  • A return affected by identity theft
  • A return that includes a claim filed for an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or an Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC). 
  • A return that includes Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation, which could take as long as 14 weeks to process

According to the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act, the IRS cannot issue EITC and ACTC refunds before mid-February. The IRS expects most EITC/ACTC related refunds to be available in taxpayer bank accounts or on debit cards by the first week of March, if they chose direct deposit and there are no other issues with their tax return.

How to check your refund status 

Tracking your IRS refund

The IRS has a tool where filers can check the status of their refund. You can find it here, or you can search “Where’s My Tax Refund?” You can search it as early as 24 hours after filing electronically, or four weeks after you mailed your return. The information is updated daily. 

To get your refund status, you’ll need to input your:

  • Social Security number 
  • Filing status
  • Exact refund amount

These are all found on the tax return you filed for the year. 

If it’s been more than the allotted three weeks for electronically filed returns and six to eight weeks for paper filings, the IRS says representatives can research the status of your return. That is, if you can get through to them.

“It’s challenging to speak with a human when the IRS has only answered roughly 7% of single taxpayer phone calls to date,” says Oak View Law Group Attorney Lyle Solomon. “Even if you’re one of the fortunate ones who gets through, they’re unlikely to provide much information.”

Where’s my state tax refund? 

Forty two states levy an individual

income tax

, according to the Tax Foundation. The eight states that have no state income taxes are: 

  • Alaska, 
  • Texas, 
  • Florida 
  • Nevada 
  • Tennessee 
  • Washington 
  • South Dakota
  • Wyoming

Each state will have its own means of tracking the status of tax refunds. State tax refunds are processed separately from federal tax refunds and you will need to find your own state’s information to check on the status. You can start by looking at the state revenue sites, which the IRS lists here.

The financial takeaway

Speedy tax refunds mean you can finally move forward with the plans you made for your money. For the quickest, most efficient tax refund, you’ll want to file electronically and provide direct deposit information. There will be fewer errors on your return and it will be processed much faster. You may also want to talk to your tax professional if you need more guidance.