Where’s my tax refund? How to track your money with free IRS tools

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For faster tax refunds, the IRS highly recommends filing online and using direct deposit.

Angela Lang/CNET

The 2022 tax season has kicked off, and for early-bird filers, tax refunds are soon to follow. But how long will you have to wait to get your money and how can you track its progress?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRS is expecting numerous delays in processing tax returns this year. The agency recommends filing electronically and setting up direct deposit this year as it can help get your refund issued within 21 days, assuming there are no errors. “Filing a paper tax return this year means an extended refund delay,” IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig announced in a Jan. 24 statement.

Once you’ve filed your tax return, you don’t need to sit around clueless. We’ll explain how to track your refund online using the Where’s My Refund? tool and how to check your IRS account for further details. This story is updated frequently.

For more tax info, learn how to create an online IRS account, how to get the rest of your child tax credit money, how you can file your taxes for free and 10 tax changes that might change the size of your refund this year.

How long will it take for my tax refund to arrive?

The IRS usually issues tax refunds within three weeks, but some taxpayers could have to wait a while longer to receive their payments. If there are any errors, or if you filed a claim for an earned income tax credit or the child tax credit, the wait could be lengthy.

When an issue delays your return, its resolution “depends on how quickly and accurately you respond, and the ability of IRS staff trained and working under social distancing requirements to complete the processing of your return,” according to the IRS website.

The date you receive your tax refund also depends on the method you used to file your return. If you submitted a tax return by mail, the IRS says it could take six to eight weeks for your tax refund to arrive once it’s been processed.

If your tax refund goes into your bank account via direct deposit, it could take an additional five days for your bank to post the money to your account. This means if it takes the IRS the full 21 days to issue your check and your bank five days to post it, you could be waiting a total of 26 days to get your tax refund.

What money will be included with my tax refund this year?

There are several things that could be tacked on to your tax refund this year. As usual, if you overpaid on your taxes in 2021, you’ll receive that money back. However, if you’re a parent, you could also expect to receive the rest of your child tax credit money, as well as a reimbursement for money you spent on child care related expenses last year.

Also, if you’re still missing your third stimulus payment, you might receive that when you get your tax refund.

Why could my tax refund be delayed?

Here’s a list of reasons your income tax refund might be delayed:

  • Your tax return has errors.
  • It’s incomplete.
  • Your refund is suspected of identity theft or fraud.
  • You filed for the earned income tax credit or additional child tax credit.
  • Your return needs further review.
  • Your return includes Form 8379 (PDF), injured spouse allocation — this could take up to 14 weeks to process.

If the delay is due to a necessary tax correction made to a recovery rebate credit, earned income tax or additional child tax credit claimed on your return, the IRS will send you an explanation. If there’s a problem that needs to be fixed, the IRS will first try to proceed without contacting you. However, if it needs any more information, it will write you a letter.

How to use the Where’s My Refund? tool

To check the status of your 2021 income tax refund using the IRS tracker tools, you’ll need to provide some personal information: your Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number; your filing status (single, married or head of household); and your refund amount in whole dollars, which you can find on your tax return. Make sure it’s been at least 24 hours (or up to four weeks if you mailed your return) before you start tracking your refund.

Using the IRS tool Where’s My Refund?, go to the Get Refund Status page, enter your personal data, then press Submit. If you entered your information correctly, you’ll be taken to a page that shows your refund status. If not, you may be asked to verify your personal tax data and try again. If all the information looks correct, you’ll need to enter the date you filed your taxes, along with whether you filed electronically or on paper.

The IRS also has a mobile app called IRS2Go that checks your tax refund status. It’s available in English and Spanish. You’ll be able to see if your return has been received, approved and sent. In order to log in, you’ll need your Social Security number, filing status and expected refund amount. The IRS updates the data in this tool overnight, so if you don’t see a status change after 24 hours or more, check back the following day. Once your return and refund are approved, you’ll receive a personalized date by which to expect your money.

Where’s My Refund? has information on the most recent tax refund that the IRS has on file within the past two years, so if you’re looking for return information from previous years you’ll need to check your IRS online account for more information. Through your own personalized account, you’ll be able to see the total amount you owe, your payment history, key information about your most recent tax return, notices you’ve received from the IRS and your address on file.

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You can check on your refund using the IRS2Go mobile app.

James Martin/CNET

What do these IRS tax refund statuses mean?

Both IRS tools (online and mobile app) will show you one of three messages to explain your tax return status.

  • Received: The IRS now has your tax return and is working to process it.
  • Approved: The IRS has processed your return and confirmed the amount of your refund, if you’re owed one.
  • Sent: Your refund is now on its way to your bank via direct deposit or as a paper check sent to your mailbox. (Here’s how to change the address on file if you’ve moved.)

Can I contact the IRS for more help?

While you could try calling the IRS to check your status, the agency’s live phone assistance is extremely limited. You shouldn’t file a second tax return or contact the IRS about the status of your return.

The IRS is directing people to the Let Us Help You page on its website for more information. It also advises taxpayers to get in-person help at Taxpayer Assistance Centers. You can contact your local IRS office or call to make an appointment: 844-545-5640. You can also contact the Taxpayer Advocate Service if you’re eligible for assistance by calling them: 877-777-4778.

Though the chances of getting live assistance are slim, the IRS says you should only call the agency directly if it’s been 21 days or more since you filed your taxes online, or if the Where’s My Refund tool tells you to contact the IRS. You can call 800-829-1040 or 800-829-8374 during regular business hours.

I see an IRS TREAS 310 transaction on my bank statement. What does it mean?

If you receive your tax refund by direct deposit, you may see IRS TREAS 310 listed for the transaction. The 310 code simply identifies the transaction as a refund from a filed tax return in the form of an electronic payment (direct deposit). You may also see TAX REF in the description field for a refund.

If you see a 449 instead of 310, it means your refund has been offset for delinquent debt.

Why would my tax refund come in the mail instead of direct deposit?

There are a couple of reasons that your refund would be mailed to you. Your money can only be electronically deposited into a bank account with your name, your spouse’s name or a joint account. If that’s not the reason, you may be getting multiple refund checks, and the IRS can only direct deposit up to three refunds to one account. Additional refunds must be mailed. Also, your bank may reject the deposit and this would be the IRS’ next best way to refund your money quickly.

It’s also important to note that for refunds, direct deposit isn’t always automatic. Just in case, sign in to your IRS account to check that the agency has your correct banking information.

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