How Long Does it Take to Get a Tax Refund?

Posted by in Taxes | Updated on August 26, 2022

You managed to file your taxes in time. Luckily for you, you’re eligible for a tax refund from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

But how long does it take to get a tax refund back? A few factors might influence how long you’ll have to wait in 2021. You could face a few delays but there are also ways you can speed the process up.

Here’s what you should know about the tax refund process.

Tax Refund Process

When you file your taxes, you can send them to the IRS either electronically or on paper via mail. When you file, you also have to tell the IRS how you want any refunds to be paid to you.

There are five options you can choose from:

  1. Direct deposit in your US bank account (fastest)
  2. Mailed paper check
  3. Debit card loaded with the total of your tax refund
  4. Buy up to $5,000 in US Savings Bonds
  5. You can split the tax refund between different financial accounts in your name, up to three. These can include individual retirement accounts.

Combined with the way you file, this can affect your tax refund processing time. If you exceed the number of tax refunds allowed in one account in a year – three – and ask for a direct deposit, you might end up getting a mailed check instead.

For 2021, the IRS will only begin the tax refund process on February 12 when they start accepting tax returns.

Tax Refund Processing Times

So how long does it take to get a tax refund? According to the IRS, more than 90% of tax refunds are processed within 21 days after your filed taxes are accepted by the tax office.

However, the IRS can’t guarantee this timeline so there’s still a chance your refund might get delayed. This can be influenced by various factors – mainly the way you filed your tax return and the payment option that you chose for the IRS to repay you with.

Here is a rough estimation of how long you’ll have to wait with the two most popular payment methods from the date you filed your taxes:

  • E-file with direct deposit – 1 to 3 weeks
  • Paper file with direct deposit – 3 to 4 weeks
  • E-file with a paper check – 6 to 8 weeks
  • Paper file with a paper check – 6 to 8 weeks.

If you submit on the tax deadline in April, you can expect your refund in the first half of May in 2021. It’s also important to note there might be delays due to limitations caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, especially for mailed tax returns and paper check repayments.

Fastest Way to Receive your Refund

Judging by the estimated times mentioned above, the obvious fastest route is to submit your taxes digitally – using either tax software or Free File fillable forms – and opting for the direct deposit into your bank account.

The slowest route is opting for a paper check, regardless of whether you e-filed or mailed your tax return to the IRS. This can also be affected by any disasters or weather-related events that could have a serious impact on the postal service.

Reasons Your Refund Might Be Delayed

Regardless of your filing and repayment routes, other factors could delay your refund.

It might be due to errors on your tax return, forms that weren’t filled in completely, and even suspicion of tax fraud that the IRS would have to double-check. Any review of your tax return will result in delays to your tax refund payment.

Another reason for delays could be related to the type of tax credits you claimed on your tax return. New special rules called the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act will force the IRS to hold any refunds related to the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Additional Child Tax Credit until the end of February. This is supposed to protect the IRS against fraud.

If you claimed one or both of these two credits, you can expect your return around the first week of March if you submit as soon as the tax offices start accepting tax returns.

If you’re a foreign person whose income is sourced from the U.S. and you requested a tax refund for income subjected to withholding on Form 1042-S by filing Form 1040NR, it can take up to six months for the IRS to process it.

Another issue to be aware of is that the IRS can reduce your tax refund through the Treasury Offset Program (TOP).

They can use your refund to pay:

  • Child support that’s past due
  • Federal agency non-tax debts
  • State income tax obligations
  • Any unemployment compensation debts owed due to fraud or missing contributions to a state fund.

You can find out if your refund will be used for any debt offset by contacting the agency that you owe. You will also receive a notice from the Bureau of the Fiscal Service (BFS) if an offset will be applied to your refund. Whatever’s left over will be paid to you per the usual tax refund process.

It’s important to wait for the estimated times mentioned earlier to lapse before checking up on the status of your tax refund.

How to Check the Status of Your Refund

Luckily, you don’t have to twiddle your thumbs while waiting an unspecified time for your tax refund.

The IRS has created a handy app called IRS2Go that tracks the status of your tax refund for you. There’s also a web version called ‘Where’s My Refund’ that will also give you an update on your refund.

Both require that you input basic information like social security number, filing status, and the total of your refund.

They send daily notifications to taxpayers that they can personalize, with updates on when your return is received, approved and payment is sent. These will start either 24 hours after your taxes were e-filed, or four weeks after your paper-filed taxes are received by the IRS.

You’ll only get a date for when your refund will be paid after it has been processed and approved.

After the ‘sent’ notification comes through, you’ll then have to follow up with your banking institution or wait for the paper check in the mail.

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Now that you can estimate how long does it take to get a tax refund, what plans do you have for this extra windfall?

It’s a good idea to think a little about what you want to do with the money – it could be used to pay off large debts, channel into a savings account, make investments, or just use it to finally get the car fixed.

Whatever it might be, think about your financial priorities and stresses and divert your tax refund to wherever it will make your life a little easier.

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