Tax season is in full swing. About a month out from the deadline, millions of Americans have already filed their 2021 taxes — and, in many cases, are now anxiously awaiting their refunds from the IRS.
Generally speaking, the sooner you file, the sooner you will get your tax refund. The turnaround is normally pretty fast: The IRS issues the vast majority of refunds within 21 days. To date, the IRS has distributed approximately 38 million refunds this season, accounting for $130 billion total.
But this is an especially tricky year. Because of record-setting inflation, demand for refunds is especially high. As average refunds exceed $3,400, Americans are waiting for thousands of dollars to roll in. Meanwhile, IRS has been dealing with a serious backlog of 2020 tax returns, and the agency says it’s still processing millions of them largely due to missing or incorrect information. Some people are still waiting to get last year’s refunds.
On top of that, big refund delays could also plague this tax season largely because of major tax changes from pandemic policy — especially related to claiming the recovery rebate credit as well as the remaining portion of the child tax credit. The agency says that if you’re claiming these tax credits, it will likely take more than 21 days (and probably between 90 to 120 days) to receive your refund. Incorrect or incomplete information will only cause further delays.
All of this makes questions like "Where's my refund?" even more urgent.
How to track your tax refund
Once you e-file your return or drop it in the mailbox, you can check in with the IRS for refund updates. Here’s how.
1. Check your tax refund status on the IRS website
On the IRS’s website, you can use its Where’s My Refund? tool to check your refund status on your smartphone, tablet or computer.
To see your update, you’ll need to click the “Check My Refund Status” button and then follow the prompts, inputting your Social Security number, tax filing status and exact refund amount. If you entered the information correctly, you should see your refund status instantly.
Note that it will only display your refund status if it’s been at least 24 hours since you e-filed or four weeks since you’ve mailed your return.
Additionally, if you've set up an IRS account you can access additional tax information about yourself online by requesting your tax and account transcripts. Some swear this is a hack to find out when you'll get your tax refund — and your account transcript does include a log of any recent IRS action — but the IRS says the Where's My Refund? tool is your best bet as it's updated daily.
2. Use the IRS2Go app for refund updates
If it’s more convenient than the website, you can also check your tax refund status using the IRS2Go app, which is available on the Amazon Appstore, Apple's App Store and the Google Play store.
The IRS app has several uses beyond checking your refund status, but if that’s all you need to do, select the refund tab and input your personal information. Just like the website, you’ll need to provide your Social Security number, filing status and refund amount. Then click submit, and you’ll see your refund status.
Again, you’ll want to make sure it has been at least 24 hours since you e-filed your return or four weeks since you mailed it off.
Speaking of those extra features, you can also use the IRS2Go app to pay your tax bill, review tax tips and get directions for on-site tax assistance nearby.
3. Call the IRS directly
For general status updates on your tax refund, it's probably not a great idea to call the IRS. Its call center is extremely backlogged, which means you might encounter long wait times. And even if you do end up getting through, it may be an AI-powered robot rather than a human being.
The IRS recommends calling only if you haven’t received your refund after 21 days of the date you e-filed — or if one of the other tax-refund status tools tells you to contact the IRS.
It’s likely you’ll only need to call the IRS if something is wrong with your return, and in that case, the IRS will probably contact you first.
How long your tax refund will (probably) take
If you e-filed your tax return and didn’t claim any pandemic-related tax credits, you can expect to receive your refund within 21 days and can check your tax refund status within 24 hours using the IRS's website or app.
However, if you mailed your return, settle in. It’ll be several weeks before you can check your status. Likewise, for complicated, incorrect or incomplete returns — especially ones that claim pandemic-related tax credits — it may take up to 120 days to receive a refund.
To start the process, file sooner rather than later. And remember: Taxes are due on April 18 for most people this year.