R is for Refund.

With tax season down to the wire, more and more taxpayers are wondering about the status of their refunds.

Your refund information is generally available about 72 hours after your tax return is processed. You can track your refund online with the “Where’s My Refund?” service offered by IRS or use the IRS2Go phone app (free through the Apple App Store and the Android Marketplace). You can also call 1-800-829-1954. Have your a copy of tax return nearby when you call because you’ll need to enter your Social Security Number; your filing status; and the amount of your refund as shown on your tax return.

Assuming there’s nothing wonky on your return, you can expect your tax refund in 21 days or less. However, if you e-file and use direct deposit, you can receive your refund in as few as ten days.

That said, I’ve heard many complaints about pokey refunds this year. If yours is among them, here are some issues that are known to slow down refunds:

  1. Taxpayer Mistakes. Submitting an error free return increases the likelihood that your refund will be processed quickly. Mistakes – sloppy returns, transposed numbers or bad math – can slow down processing and result in delays. Take a minute to double-check your return (including the signature line!) before you submit it to ensure that it doesn’t get flagged.
  2. Increased Scrutiny. The IRS warns that ramped up scrutiny for fraud may slow down some refunds. If your refund is sizable or if it’s based on a credit that the IRS has identified as ripe for abuse (EITC and fuel tax credits, for example), your return might get a second look.
  3. IRS Mistakes. That fancy new software system that the IRS put into place in the fall had a few, er, glitches, resulting in a number of delays. The IRS claims that the delays are minimal but admits that there are “probably several million taxpayers” who didn’t get returns as expected. Supposedly, they’re all caught up now. We’ll see.
  4. Amended Returns. If you’ve amended your return using a form 1040X, expect to wait. It may take 8 to 12 weeks or longer to process the return. If 8 weeks have passed after you’ve filed a form 1040X and you have not received your refund, call the IRS at (800) 829-1040. From outside the U.S., call 267-941-1000. TTY/TDD: 800-829-4059. Be prepared to wait (and wait).
  5. Third Party Lender Delays. If you took advantage of a Refund Anticipation Loan (RAL) or similar product, your refund might be delayed because of a problem in processing from the third party lender. With a RAL or similar product, your refund is usually directed to the third party who, after taking out any applicable fees and interest, passes the refund along to you. If that’s the case, contact the third party for status, not the IRS.
  6. Offsets. If your refund is smaller than you expected, it might have been subject to an offset because you have an outstanding obligation such as a tax liability, unpaid student loan or you are in arrears for child support. If you are married filing jointly, your refund might have been affected for an outstanding obligation belonging to your spouse; if that’s the case, you might qualify for injured spouse relief.
  7. Lost/Stolen/Destroyed Checks. If the IRS says that the “check is in the mail” and it’s not, it may have been lost, stolen, or destroyed. If so, you can file an online claim for a replacement check. You can make the claim if it’s been more than 28 days from the date that the IRS says it mailed your refund. Head over to the “Where’s My Refund?” tool on IRS.gov for details.
  8. Fraud or Identity Theft. If none of these items apply to you, it’s also possible (increasingly) that you were the victim of identity theft. Savvy thieves have figured out how to lift refunds in some cases by using your information to file bogus returns. If that happens to you – or you think it might have happened to you – contact the IRS.

Last Updated on


Kelly Erb is a tax attorney and tax writer.

Write A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.