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Where's Your Federal Tax Refund?

Checking the status of a federal tax refund and common reasons for refund delays


Man with head in mailbox Andy Reynolds/Stone/Getty Images

The Internal Revenue Service typically issues tax refunds within twenty-one days of receiving the tax return. The IRS states, "If you file a complete and accurate tax return, your refund should be issued within 21 days of the received date. This time-frame does not include mail and IRS handling time for paper returns. Even though the IRS issues most refunds in less than 21 days, it’s possible your tax return may require review and take longer." (Tax Topic 152, Refund Information, IRS.gov)

For paper tax returns that are mailed to the IRS for manual processing, the IRS advises that refunds are generally issued in six to eight weeks. For amended returns, the IRS processes refunds in about eight to twelve weeks. (Internal Revenue Manual,

Refunds involving the adoption tax credit require additional manual processing and verification by the IRS, and so adoption credit refunds generally take about fourteen weeks for the IRS to process.


Common Reasons Why Tax Refunds Can Be Delayed

There are lots of reasons why a federal tax refund may be delayed. Some of the reasons for delays include:
  • Processing backlogs

  • Refunds often take longer to process when the IRS is receiving higher than normal volume of tax returns. Tax returns filed on paper, including amended returns and tax returns that are required to be filed on paper, can take longer for the IRS to process when the agency gets backlogged.
  • Incorrect bank information in the direct deposit section of the tax return

  • If you requested that your tax refund be sent via direct deposit, review the bank account number and routing transit number shown on your tax return. The IRS will attempt to send the tax refund to the account shown on your tax return. If the numbers shown on your tax return don't correspond exactly to your bank account information, there are two possibilities for what could happen. (1) The bank could refuse the deposit and send the refund back to the IRS, and the IRS will then mail out the refund via check. (2) The bank doesn't refuse the deposit, and the refund is deposited to the mistaken account shown on your tax return. In this second case, that account either might be an actual account that belongs to another bank customer or it might not be an actual account, and the money is sitting there until the bank figures out what to do with the money. If you're direct deposit information doesn't match your actual bank information, call the IRS right away to request that your direct deposit be canceled and your refund be converted to a check. You will likely also need to contact the bank to see if the bank can reverse the incorrect direct deposit. For further guidance on procedures, see the IRS Web page on Refund Inquires Regarding Incorrect Routing or Account Number.
  • IRS needs to manually verify information

  • The IRS may need to verify information. When the IRS gets backlogged, such as during the busiest times of the filing season, this verification process can get backlogged and delayed.

    How to Check on the Status of a Federal Tax Refund

    • Via the IRS Web site, using the Where's My Refund? Web application.
    • Via telephone, by calling the IRS's Refund Hotline at 1-800-829-1954 (this is a toll-free number).
    • Via mobile phone application, IRS2Go (available for Android and iPhone.)
    Be aware that the IRS updates their computer systems once a day, typically at night. Refund information relating to your tax return can be available as soon as twenty-four hours after the IRS receives an electronically-filed tax return, or about four weeks after receiving a paper-filed tax return. (Publication 2043)
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