Where’s my refund? How to check the status of a federal tax refund.

You man drinking coffee outdoors and using his mobile phone to check his tax refund status. Image: You man drinking coffee outdoors and using his mobile phone to check his tax refund status.

In a Nutshell

When you’re expecting a tax refund, it can’t arrive soon enough. How can you tell when the money’s on the way? Here are some tips for checking the status of a federal income tax refund.

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This article was fact-checked by our editors and Christina Taylor, MBA, senior manager of tax operations for Credit Karma Tax®. It has been updated for the 2019 tax year.

Uncle Sam expects you to pay your taxes on time every year. But if the federal government owes you a refund, you’d probably like to get it sooner rather than later.

Every year, the IRS issues millions of refunds that add up to hundreds of billions of dollars. Of course, not everyone will get a refund. But whether your share of that money is more, less or exactly the average ($2,869 for individuals in 2019, according to the IRS), you may start wondering “Where’s my refund?” as soon as you file your return.

Fortunately, once you’ve filed and know you’re owed a federal income tax refund, you can track it through the IRS website.

How can I check the status of my tax refund?

You have multiple options for tracking a current tax year federal refund.

  • Go to the IRS refunds homepage and click on the “Check My Refund Status” button on the right side of the page. This will take you to the “Where’s My Refund?” tool. Be ready to provide your Social Security number or individual taxpayer identification number, your filing status (married, single, etc.), and the exact refund amount you expect based on the tax return you filed.
  • Download the IRS2GO mobile app from Google Play, Amazon or Apple’s App Store. You can use the free app to check your refund status. You can also use it for other functions, including making a payment if you need to pay estimated taxes throughout the year.
  • Call the IRS at 1-800-829-1954, but only if it’s been more than 21 days since you electronically filed your tax return (six weeks if you mailed it). You can also call if you’ve tried the online tool and it directs you to contact the IRS. Be aware that calling the IRS can mean sitting on hold for a while — wait times average 15 minutes during tax season and 27 minutes outside the season, according to the IRS.

Have questions about your taxes and COVID-19? Learn more.

When should I start checking?

E-filing is the fastest way to get your tax return to the IRS. And if you e-file, you’ll be able to check on any refund you might be owed sooner — within 24 hours of the IRS receiving your return. If you mail a paper return, you’ll have to wait four weeks before you can check on a refund through the online tool. Once your information shows online, you can check it whenever you like, but be aware that information updates daily, usually at night.

The tool will tell you when the IRS received your return, if your refund has been approved and when it’s been sent. When the system says your income tax return has been received, it means that the IRS is processing it. “Approved” means the IRS has approved your refund and is preparing to send it to you — either through direct deposit or a check in the mail, whichever you chose.

Once the status switches to “sent,” it means your refund is on the way. If you chose to receive it by direct deposit, wait five days before checking with your financial institution since bank processing times vary. If you opted to receive a check in the mail, it could take several weeks to receive it. 

What could delay my refund?

The IRS says it issues most refunds in under 21 days. But certain factors could delay yours.

Common issues that can delay refunds include …

  • Errors in your return
  • An incomplete return
  • Tax fraud or identity theft issues

Certain credits may also delay a refund. For example, if you claim the earned income tax credit or the additional child tax credit, federal law requires the IRS to wait until mid-February before issuing your refund.

Why is my refund less than I expected?

Your refund amount can change for multiple reasons. For example, math errors can either increase or decrease your refund.

If you owe back taxes to the IRS or your state government, have delinquent student loans or other federal nontax obligations, or owe past-due child support, your refund may end up being less than you expected.

If your refund is reduced because of a debt that falls under the Treasury Offset Program, you should receive a notice from the Department of Treasury’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service with information on your original refund amount, the reduced amount, the agency that received the offset payment and contact information for that agency.

Can I do anything to get my refund faster?

While the IRS says it issues nine out of 10 refunds within 21 days, it also says e-filing and choosing direct deposit may help you get any refund you’re owed more quickly.

E-filing with an online tax preparation and filing service like Credit Karma Tax®, which is always free, can simplify the filing process. In fact, the IRS says that e-filing can help taxpayers avoid mistakes by helping with the math. E-filing software generally does calculations for you based on the information you input. Math errors can slow the processing of your return.

Direct deposit into your bank account can give you faster access to your refund than waiting for a paper check to arrive in the mail. Just be sure to provide the IRS with your correct account number and bank routing number. 

Can I track a state tax refund?

Probably, but not through the IRS “Where’s My Refund?” tool.

States that have individual income taxes (not all do) have their own processes for tracking state returns and tax refunds. Different states allow taxpayers to track state refunds through different methods, such as online, with a mobile app or by phone. Check with your state’s department of revenue or other taxing authority to find out how you can track a refund.

Learn more about how to track a state tax refund

What if I want to “adjust” my refund amount next year?

Many factors play into whether you’ll get a refund and how much any refund you might be due will be. Some of those factors are within your control.

For example, if you faced a big tax bill last year, updating your W-4 to have more tax withheld or making estimated tax payments throughout the year could help reduce the amount you owe come April 15. You might even get a refund if you overpay your taxes.

Making the most of any deductions or credits you’re eligible for could also reduce your tax obligation.

And, if you’re not keen on giving Uncle Sam an interest-free loan for a year (which is essentially what happens when you get a tax refund), you can use the IRS Tax Withholding Estimator to help determine if you’re having the right amount of tax withheld from your paycheck.

Bottom line

Waiting to get a federal income tax refund can be stressful, especially if you’re counting on the money to pay bills or save toward a specific financial goal. You can make the filing process smoother by using tools the IRS provides and relying on free online tax software to help walk you through the filing process. Make sure you know if any of the credits or deductions that you applied for might slow your refund.

Still, barring any complicated filings, if you haven’t seen your refund within 21 days of filing your taxes online or within six weeks of filing by mail, it may be time to start checking up on your refund. Use the digital tools the IRS provides to check the status of your refund, and if you don’t find the answer you need, pick up the phone and call.

Once you get the information you need, be patient and wait for your refund to arrive. And spend the time planning how you’ll put your refund to work for you once you have it.

COVID-19, taxes and tax relief

The spread of COVID-19 has impacted nearly every facet of our financial lives — even when it comes to taxes. Here are a few key things to know about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on taxes and government relief programs.

  • Tax deadline extended — The federal tax filing and payment deadline has been extended this year to July 15 because of the coronavirus. Additionally, many states — but not all — have adopted the same deadline. But if you need money now and think you’ll be due a refund, you should consider filing before the deadline. Always remember to check to see if you qualify to file your taxes for free using the Free File Program. If you don’t qualify you can also use Credit Karma Tax®, which is free for everyone.
  • Filing a tax return to get a stimulus payment — If you had a federal tax refund directly deposited into your bank account for 2018 or 2019 and you qualify for a rebate, you probably won’t have to do anything to get it. The IRS will use that account number to make a direct payment of the rebate amount.
  • Getting a stimulus payment without filing a tax return — If you weren’t required to file for 2018 or 2019, wouldn’t have filed for any other reason, and didn’t receive Social Security benefits in 2019, you don’t have to file just to get your stimulus payment. The IRS has launched a free online portal for non-filers. You can provide information that will allow the IRS to determine your eligibility and payment amount and send a payment if you qualify for one. For more answers on stimulus payments, visit this FAQ page from the IRS.
  • Wondering if your stimulus payment will be taxed? The IRS says stimulus payments, which are actually advance credits for 2020 federal income taxes, won’t reduce your refund or increase the amount you owe when you file your 2020 tax returns in 2021.
Expecting a stimulus check but haven’t received it yet? This could be why.

  • Federal taxes and unemployment benefits — If you’ve filed for unemployment and have received unemployment benefits, keep in mind that those are generally subject to federal income tax. According to the IRS, you may have to make quarterly estimated tax payments if you receive unemployment compensation during the year. If that sounds daunting, though, you can also choose to have your federal income tax automatically withheld from your unemployment compensation. Check out the Voluntary Withholding Request (Form W-4V) from the IRS for more info on how to do this.

Our editors are working diligently to keep you informed about COVID-19’s impact on taxes, personal finance and more. To find the latest money news on the coronavirus, visit this page: Coronavirus and your finances: We’ll help answer your questions.

And to learn about the latest tax relief information coming out of the IRS, visit this page: Coronavirus Tax Relief and Economic Impact Payments.

Christina Taylor is senior manager of tax operations for Credit Karma Tax®. She has more than a dozen years of experience in tax, accounting and business operations. Christina founded her own accounting consultancy and managed it for more than six years. She co-developed an online DIY tax-preparation product, serving as chief operating officer for seven years. She is the current treasurer of the National Association of Computerized Tax Processors and holds a bachelor’s in business administration/accounting from Baker College and an MBA from Meredith College. You can find her on LinkedIn.