Yes, you can track your tax refund with the IRS. Likely dates and how to do it

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

Sarah Tew/CNET

Whether you filed your 2020 tax returns already, are about to soon or plan to file for an extension, there’s a handy tool from the IRS that will track the status of any tax refund you might be owed. The sooner you submit your taxes, the sooner you could get your 2020 tax refund, as well as any missing stimulus check money you claim through the Recovery Rebate Credit. Our chart below lays out some dates you could expect to see your tax refund.

It’s a quicker process to track and receive your tax refund if you file through direct deposit instead of a paper return — you could see your schedule within 24 hours after filing electronically, in fact. And this year especially, the IRS is asking taxpayers to avoid filing paper returns, if possible, to keep from compounding a current delay caused by a backlog from last year, when the tax due date was extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Democrats have suggested extending tax season 2020 this year, too, The Hill reported.

Right now, we’ll show you two tools to help track your 2020 refund after you file your tax return. But you may also want to keep in mind that tax season could affect your payment for a third stimulus check of up to $1,400 per person. Here’s everything we know about when your own third check could arrive and how it could be more targeted, which could disqualify more people. This story was recently updated.

Here are two IRS tools that can help you track the status of your refund

There are several things you’ll need on hand when you begin 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, which is useful if you’re constantly checking to see when your refund will arrive. 

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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What your tax refund status message means

When looking at the status of your tax refund in the IRS tool, you could 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 check to your home. (How to change your address now if you moved.)

When your tax refund could arrive: Potential dates

The IRS says it issues most tax refunds within 21 days, but many will get theirs 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 could 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 applied.

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

Can you call the IRS to ask about your tax refund 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 could be waiting 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.