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Does a Delayed Tax Refund Mean I’m Getting Audited?

By Maurie Backman - May 7, 2018 at 7:08AM

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The quick answer: Not necessarily.

If you're like most tax filers this year, you have something to look forward to after submitting your return: your refund. It's estimated that roughly 80% of filers wind up getting money back from the IRS each year, and in 2017, the typical refund totaled $2,763.

But what happens when the refund you're supposed to get doesn't show up as expected? Is it a harmless delay on the part of the IRS, or does it mean something worse -- namely, that your return has been flagged for an audit?

Man removing sheet of paper from envelope reading you are getting audited


It's a valid point of concern, especially if it's been some time since you submitted your taxes. But rest assured that a delayed refund does not automatically mean you're in trouble with the IRS. There are a number of possible explanations for that holdup that have nothing to do with an audit whatsoever.

When should you expect your refund?

The IRS reports that it typically issues refunds for electronically filed returns within three weeks of receipt. Therefore, if it hasn't been 21 days since you've submitted yours, there's nothing to worry about, nor should you be grumbling about not having yet gotten you cash. Furthermore, the turnaround time for paper return refunds is six to eight weeks, so if you went old-school with your filing, expect to wait longer. That said, you can start to look into your refund if either of the aforementioned timeframes passes and your money is nowhere to be seen.

What does a delayed tax refund mean?

So what's holding your refund up? There are a number of possible explanations having nothing to do with an audit. For one thing, it could be that your tax return contained an error and therefore could not be processed. If, for example, you put down the wrong Social Security number, or entered the wrong filing status, you might have your return rejected outright, but that's not the same thing as having it audited.

Furthermore, the IRS will often try to correct math errors rather than reject returns that contain them. If that's the case, your refund will likely get held up as the IRS attempts to reconcile that mistake and figure out the correct amount of that refund.

Another reason why your refund might be MIA? The IRS is swamped with filings that all came in at the last minute and needs a little extra time to process them. It happens.

Additionally, if you signed up for direct deposit but entered the wrong bank information, whether it be your account number or the bank's routing number, it'll delay your refund as well. And if you requested a check in the mail, your refund might be missing due to a basic postal service glitch.

Now this isn't to say that a delayed tax refund is never an indication that an audit notice is on its way. But there's no reason to jump to the conclusion that you're getting audited just because your money is taking longer than expected to make its way to you.

Following up on your refund

The best way to keep tabs on your refund is to use the IRS's "Where's My Refund" page to check its status. To use this service, you'll need your Social Security number, filing status, and the exact amount of the refund you're expecting.

If it's been more than 21 days since you filed your return electronically, or more than eight weeks since filing on paper, and all you can get out of the IRS's website is that your return was received and is being processed, then you have every right to call the IRS directly and ask where your money is. A live representative can access your file and, in some cases, give you better information that what the website contains. Just be prepared for a long wait, because you're probably not the only one calling about a missing refund.

Finally, remember that if your delayed refund is a sign that an audit is pending, don't panic. Most audits are resolved by mail, and some even work out in taxpayers' favor.

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