How to track your California tax refund

Two women, relaxing on the floor of their home, using their smartphones to track the status of their California tax refundImage: Two women, relaxing on the floor of their home, using their smartphones to track the status of their California tax refund

In a Nutshell

If you’re expecting a tax refund from the state of California, you can probably track it online. But you’ll need to have some information ready first. Keep in mind that processing time for refunds can vary depending on a variety of factors, including whether you e-file or submit a paper return through the mail.
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This article was fact-checked by our editors and CPA Janet Murphy, senior product specialist with Credit Karma.

Living in the Golden State probably feels a bit more golden when you get a state tax refund. Fortunately, it’s easy to track your California tax refund.

With some basic information, you can track your refund through the California Franchise Tax Board’s online portal. Let’s look at how to track your California state tax refund for the most recent tax year.

How can I track a California tax refund?

Paying taxes is a fact of life for many who live or work in the most-populous U.S. state. The amount of state income tax you owe will depend on a number of factors, including your filing status, how much money you earn in a year, and what credits or deductions you’re eligible to take.

If you overpay your state taxes during the tax year, you may be owed a refund when Tax Day comes around. If you’ve filed your state tax return and are expecting a California state refund, you can probably track its status through the State of California Franchise Tax Board. It offers a “Where’s my refund” tool that’s similar to the IRS tool for tracking your federal income tax return. The tool will allow you to track the status of your most recent (or current-year) refund. If you want to check on refunds from prior tax years, you’ll have to contact the FTB.

To track your current tax refund, you’ll need several important pieces of information.

  • Social Security number
  • Numbers in your mailing address
  • ZIP code
  • Refund amount

When you click the “Check Your Refund” button on the website, you’ll first enter your Social Security number. Then you’ll enter the numbers in your mailing address. This refers to the digits before the street name — so if you live at 104 Main Street, the numbers would be 104. Next, you’ll enter your ZIP code. Finally, you’ll enter the anticipated refund amount in whole dollars, which can be found on your most recent California tax return.

How to track a refund from the IRS

How long might it take to get my California tax refund?

Processing times vary depending on multiple factors. Here are a few.

  • How you file your California tax return If you choose to e-file, normal processing times can take up to two weeks. If you decide to paper file, processing can take up to four weeks.
  • Potential delays — Your return could be delayed if the FTB decides it needs extra review for accuracy, is incomplete, or shows signs of fraud or identity theft. In those situations, it could take a month for you to receive your refund or a notice from the FTB requesting more information if you e-filed your return and two months if you filed a paper return.
  • Amendments to your return — If you amend your California state tax return, that could delay your refund up to three months.

Generally, choosing to e-file your return and have your refund deposited directly into your bank account will help you get your refund faster.

How can I get help?

While the State of California Franchise Tax Board’s online refund tracking tool may help you stay on top of your refund’s status, it does have limitations. If you want to check the refund status of a past year’s return, you can’t use the online tracking tool. And if you run into an issue with the online tracking tool — say you don’t see a refund status or it says you should’ve received a refund by now but you haven’t — you can contact the FTB about your refund in three ways.

  1. Phone — Call 1-800-852-5711 on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST.
  2. Chat — Sign into MyFTB to chat on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST.
  3. Mail — Mail your query to the following address:
    Franchise Tax Board
    PO Box 942840
    Sacramento, CA 942840-0040

What if my refund is different than what I expected?

Even if you do your best to submit an accurate return, it’s still possible for the refund amount you actually receive to be different from what you were expecting. For example, the amount may change if you don’t qualify for a tax credit you attempted to claim or the refund is put toward a past-due tax debt or other government agency debt, like child support.

If the California Franchise Tax Board makes changes to your return, you should receive a letter in the mail called a Notice of Tax Return Change that explains the change and updated refund amount.

Learn about filing state taxes for free

Bottom line

Learning you’re receiving a tax refund can be good news. It’s even better when you file your state tax return for free, because you’ll be saving more of your hard-earned money. For next year, consider e-file options that can take just a few weeks to process. And if you’re waiting for your refund now, check out the FTB website to track the status of your California state refund.

Relevant sources: State of California Franchise Tax Board: Where’s my refund? | U.S. Census Bureau | State of California Franchise Tax Board: Check your Refund Status | State of California Franchise Tax Board: Returns and Refunds | State of California Franchise Tax Board Personal Income Tax Booklet (2018) | State of California Franchise Tax Board: Help with refunds

A senior product specialist with Credit Karma, Janet Murphy is a CPA with more than a decade in the tax industry. She’s worked as a tax analyst, tax product development manager and tax accountant. She has accounting degrees and certifications from Clemson University and the U.S. Career Institute. You can find her on LinkedIn.

About the author: Laura Malm is a writer and editor with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and strategic communication from the University of Minnesota. She is passionate about financial literacy and helping others feel confident in th… Read more.