Few people are eager to prepare their tax return, but the sooner you do it, the better, if you're in line for a tax refund. Once you mail it off, you'll probably be wondering, "When will I get my tax refund?" For most people, the answer is within 21 days. But it all depends on a few factors, such as how you filed your return.
The IRS aims to issue most refunds to taxpayers within three weeks -- if you filed your return electronically. It also offers a handy service, appropriately called "Where's My Refund?," that can help pinpoint exactly when you can expect to receive your money. (There's also an IRS2Go mobile app.)
"Where's My Refund?" is updated regularly and should offer you information on your return's status within 24 hours of the IRS's receipt of it, if you filed electronically. If you mailed in a paper return, you should wait about four weeks or longer before checking. Once your return has been received and approved, a refund issuing date will be assigned and you can look up when it is.
Why might your tax refund be late?
There are a bunch of reasons your tax return might arrive later than expected, though. For example, your refund is likely to be late if:
- You're claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit. The IRS will not start releasing your refund until Feb. 15, and it cautions that because of processing issues, you may not receive your funds until about Feb. 27 -- and that's assuming you filed electronically, you set up direct deposit for your refund, and your return didn't experience any processing delays along the way. This inconvenience is a result of the IRS's attempt to thwart identity theft and fraud that has resulted in billions of dollars of fraudulently claimed credits.
- Your tax return contains errors. If your math is wrong, computers at the IRS will notice, and your return may be flagged and perhaps audited.
- Your tax return is incomplete -- perhaps without a signature or your Social Security number or information from a needed financial institution. That's likely to lead to a delay processing your return -- and your refund.
- The IRS suspects that your return has been involved in identity theft or fraud. If the IRS suspects or determines that someone has been messing with your return and your refund, you probably won't be receiving your money quickly.
- There are liens against you, you owe back taxes, or you face refund offsets. (A refund offset occurs when your refund is reduced, perhaps because you owe money for child support, outstanding student loans, or state income taxes.)
Reasons to file your return early -- or late
Clearly, filing as early as possible (the earliest date on which you could file your return was Jan. 23 -- the latest is the due date, April 18) will get your refund to you as soon as possible. That's an excellent reason to file early.
Another good reason to file early is to prevent tax-return fraud. That happens when someone impersonates you (using your Social Security number, for example), filing a tax return in your name and collecting a refund. It has been happening to hundreds of thousands of taxpayers in recent years, and the IRS has been fighting it with some success. By filing your return early, you give any would-be scam artist less time to grab a refund in your name.
But hold on -- there's also a reason to wait a bit before filing your return. Remember that if you have a bunch of financial accounts, you'll be needing to collect 1099 forms or other tax documents for each of them to incorporate in your return. If you file before you receive them all and have failed to account for all your dividend or interest income or other matters, then your return will likely be flagged and delayed -- and possibly audited. If you file your return early and then receive a 1099 form, you'll need to file an amended return.
The best plan is to file as soon as you have all the documents you need.
When will you get your refund?
Here's the bottom line, from the IRS itself:
"The IRS still anticipates issuing more than nine out of 10 refunds in less than 21 days."
"Choosing e-file and direct deposit for refunds remains the fastest and safest way to file an accurate income tax return and receive a refund."
So if you have a refund coming your way, start working on that tax return, and get it filed as soon as you have all the necessary data for it. You may well have your money in hand within a few weeks.