When Can I Expect My Tax Refund?

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  • If the IRS owes you money, you may want it as soon as possible.
  • There are different factors that will determine when that money comes in.

It's actually a pretty loaded question.

A lot of people think of tax refunds as free money. But a refund isn't a handout. Rather, it's money you were entitled to but didn't collect upfront because you paid too much tax on your income. If you've just submitted this year's tax return, you may be wondering when you can expect that money to arrive.

But it's actually not such a simple question, as there are different factors that will dictate your refund's turnaround time. Here's what you need to know.

1. What filing method did you use?

If you filed your taxes electronically, the IRS typically takes about three weeks to issue refunds for these types of returns. The turnaround time for paper returns, however, is usually twice as long -- and that's when the IRS isn't dealing with a massive backlog like it is this year.

2. Did you sign up for direct deposit?

If the IRS will be sending your refund by mail, you'll need to wait for the U.S. Postal Service to deliver it. But if you signed up for direct deposit, you might see your money several days sooner. That said, ideally, you put in the correct bank account and routing number when registering for direct deposit. But if you put in the wrong details, your refund will get rejected, which will delay it even further.

3. Was your tax return error-free?

If your tax return was free of errors, then you might see your refund within three weeks of submitting it electronically or six weeks of filing on paper. But if your return contains mistakes, the IRS will need to resolve those before issuing your refund. What'll usually happen is the IRS will try to fix the problem on its own and propose a different refund total based on its calculations. It will then send you a letter with a proposed change that you'll need to agree to before your refund can be issued.

4. Did you claim the Earned Income Tax Credit?

The Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC, is a fully refundable credit that benefits lower-income households. But because of high levels of fraud associated with that credit, the PATH Act, which was passed in 2015, requires the IRS to hold refunds for the EITC until February 15. Since it can then take time for those refunds to go out, some filers may not get their money until March.

Keep in mind that even if you're owed a refund outside of the EITC, the IRS will have to hold that portion of it until mid-February as well. It won't release a partial refund if, say, you're owed $3,000 and only $2,000 of that stems from the EITC.

Natural as it is to want your tax refund as quickly as possible, the reality is it won't happen right away. But generally speaking, the sooner you get your taxes done, the sooner you can anticipate that money arriving, so get working on your return if you haven't started already.

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