6 tax refund myths and the truths behind them

Young African-American woman peering over her glasses, skeptical of common tax refund myths.Image: Young African-American woman peering over her glasses, skeptical of common tax refund myths.

In a Nutshell

It’s just about the only good thing come tax season: a refund. When will yours arrive and is there anything you can do to make it come sooner? Here’s the truth behind some common tax refund misbeliefs.
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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.

Waiting for a tax refund can be frustrating.

Believing common tax refund myths — like smaller refunds get issued faster — could make your frustration even worse. If you’re waiting on a federal income tax refund this tax season, here are some truths you may want to know behind six common tax refund myths.

Myth 1: Everyone’s refund is going to be late, thanks to tax reform

Truth: The IRS has long said it issues nine out of 10 refunds in less than 21 calendar days. It’s possible that your refund may be delayed if you claim the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit. By law, the IRS can’t issue refunds for anyone who claimed those credits until mid-February. And of course, if your return has errors or is incomplete, it could delay your refund.

Myth 2: Calling the IRS (repeatedly) will motivate them to issue your refund faster

Truth: If you call the IRS phone number and reach a person, the most that they may be able to do for you is research the status of your refund. And they’ll only be able to do that if it’s been more than 21 days since you e-filed or more than six weeks if you mailed a paper return.

Myth 3: Calling or visiting an IRS center is the best way to find out when your refund will arrive

Truth: The best way to track your return and your refund is to use the Where’s My Refund? tool. It can tell you when the IRS received your return, when your refund was approved, and an actual refund date once your refund has been processed and approved. Wait 24 hours after you e-file before trying the tool, and at least four weeks after mailing a paper return. The system updates daily, so you can check every day to see if there are any updates on your return and refund.

Myth 4: Ordering a tax transcript can help you find out when you’ll get your refund

Truth: You can order multiple types of tax transcripts from the IRS, two of which will show you data related to your tax returns or tax account. A Tax Return Transcript shows the majority of line items from your current return (or returns up to three years prior), but will not show changes made after your return has been filed. A Tax Account Transcript, however, will show you changes made to your return after you filed it. But that information doesn’t necessarily show when you’ll get your refund or how much it will be.

Myth 5: There’s nothing you can do to find out when your refund will arrive or to ensure you get it sooner

Truth: See Myth 3 above for the best way to track your refund and find out when your refund might arrive. As for getting it sooner, keep in mind that once the IRS issues a refund, having it directly deposited into your checking, savings or other eligible financial account (like an IRA) is a faster way to receive your money.

Myth 6: If I’m owed a refund this year, and I don’t get it, I’m out of luck — I’ll never get it

Truth: If for any reason your refund just never gets delivered — and you don’t follow up to get it (use Where’s My Refund? for that as well) — the IRS will apply the amount they owe you to your next year’s tax return (provided you file). That amount will reduce any balance you owe, or add to any refund owed you for that year.

Bottom line

Patience isn’t just a virtue when waiting for your refund, it could also be a sanity-saver. Plus, the sooner you file, the sooner the IRS can begin processing your return and issuing you any refund they may owe you.

Christina Taylor is senior manager of tax operations for Credit Karma. 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.

About the author: With nearly 30 years of experience in media, marketing, public relations and journalism, Evelyn’s written about nearly everything — from newspaper accounts of salacious capital murder trials to whitepapers on what typ… Read more.