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

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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 reviewed by 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 ($2,881 for individuals in 2018, 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.

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.

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.