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Why Is My Tax Refund Delayed?

By Maurie Backman – Feb 26, 2020 at 7:01AM

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Expecting a payout from the IRS? Here's why it could be taking longer than anticipated.

You hustled to file your taxes early, double-checked your work, and submitted your return well ahead of the April 15 filing deadline. But weeks later, you're sitting around waiting for your refund, and it's nowhere to be found. What gives?

An absent tax refund can be more than just annoying; it can be undoubtedly stressful, especially if you were counting on that money to pay an upcoming bill. Furthermore, the IRS says itself that it typically takes three weeks to issue tax refunds for electronic returns, so if that window has passed, you may be wondering if your missing refund is a sign of trouble. But before you panic, here are a few reasons why your tax refund may be taking longer to arrive.

Man with serious expression at laptop


1. You submitted a paper return

If you're the type who prefers to do things old school, you may still be in the habit of filing taxes on paper. And while you have every right to stick to the method you're used to, one thing you should know is that it generally takes the IRS about twice as long to process paper returns compared to electronic ones. As such, the three-week turnaround period for refunds doubles to six weeks when you file on paper.

Another thing: Filing on paper increases your chances of making a mistake on your tax return. If that's the case, it could take the IRS extra time to sort out your error or reach out to you for clarification, thereby delaying your refund in the process.

2. You didn't ask for direct deposit

That old saying "the check's in the mail" doesn't have to come into play with regard to your tax refund. The IRS is more than happy to deposit that money directly into your checking or savings account. But if you don't sign up for direct deposit for your refund, you'll have to rely on the good old postal service to get that money, which could leave you waiting longer. Furthermore, if you did sign up for direct deposit, but you entered the wrong bank account details, your refund is apt to get delayed while that error is reconciled.

3. You claimed a tax credit that's subject to extra scrutiny

Ever since the PATH Act (Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes) was passed, the IRS has been obligated to withhold refunds for filers who claim the Earned Income Tax Credit or Additional Child Tax Credit, since these credits have been previously associated with high levels of fraud. If you claimed one of these credits this year, you may find that your refund takes longer to process.

Checking up on your refund

If you're getting antsy waiting for your refund, you may be itching for an update. And in that regard, there's good news: The IRS has a "Where's My Refund" tool that lets you see where your refund stands. To access that information, you'll need to provide your Social Security number, your tax-filing status, and the refund amount you're expecting. If you filed your taxes electronically, your refund status should be available 24 hours after the fact. If you filed a paper return, however, you'll need to wait more like a month to get an update, which is yet another reason to move over to electronic returns.

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