Your Tax Refund: What to Expect

By Dan Caplinger

Whether you've already filed your return or expect to wait until the last minute, the big question on the mind of everyone who expects to get money back from the IRS is when they'll receive their tax refund. But the steps you take before you file your return can make a big difference.

What to Expect

The IRS does its best to get refunds out as quickly as possible. Last year, the IRS had a better than 90 percent success rate in getting refunds back to taxpayers within 21 days, and it expects to do as well this year.

To check on your refund, the IRS provides an online Where's My Refund? tool, which now lets you check on the status of your refund as soon as 24 hours after the IRS receives your e-filed return. If you do a paper return instead of e-filing, though, the IRS says not to check until four full weeks after you send it in.

In order to use the tool, you need to have your Social Security number, your filing status, and the exact amount of the refund you expect to get. The tool will then tell you the current status of your refund.

Why's My Refund Taking So Long?

The IRS lists a number of causes for refund delays. Mistakes in Social Security numbers, addresses, and bank routing and account numbers can cause problems in tax-return processing.

Moreover, the IRS looks more closely at some refunds to protect against fraud. So if you're expecting a big refund check or used unusual tax-law provisions to get a refund, it may take longer for the IRS to get it to you.

Speed Up Your Refund

As the IRS makes clear, e-filing is one obvious way to get your refund faster. But another way is to arrange to have your refund deposited directly into your bank account.

Your tax return has spaces for you to put your banking information for direct deposit, and if you want your refund sent to more than one different account, you can use IRS Form 8888 [opens PDF] to split it into as many as three separate payments. Given the danger of stolen or lost refund checks in the mail, direct deposit is a much more secure way to get your refund quickly.

Of course, the best way to get your refund faster is to file as early as possible. If you wait until the mad rush at the end of tax season, it'll take longer for the IRS to work through the backlog and get your money back to you.

For more on your taxes:

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger expects to file right on April 15, but he's not getting a refund. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger.