For many, the best part of tax season is getting a tax refund. A tax refund is a sum of money that’s returned to you by the government after you have filed your taxes. You may get a refund because you withheld too much from your paychecks throughout the year, or because you qualified for valuable tax credits or deductions
According to the IRS, out of all of the tax returns submitted in 2021, 66% received a refund. The average refund amount was for a whopping $3,176 — a huge windfall for most people.
So how long does it take to get a tax refund? Depending on how you filed it, it could be as little as a few weeks. But in some cases, it can take months.
Here's what you should know about federal tax refunds and what you can do to get it faster.
According to the IRS, you can usually expect your refund within 21 days from when you file. However, the amount of time it takes to receive your tax refund depends on how you submit your tax return and how you choose to get your refund.
If you opt to receive your refund via check: Refund checks can take several weeks due to processing times and mail delays.
If you opt to receive your refund via direct deposit: If you opt to receive your refund via direct deposit rather than a check in the mail, you could receive your refund within a few days.
If you submit a paper return: If you complete and submit a paper return and send it in through the postal mail, be prepared for a much longer wait. The IRS says it can take six months (or more!) to process paper tax returns and issue refunds due to lingering COVID-19-related delays.
If you plan on working with a tax preparer to file your tax return, ask about their filing methods. While many tax preparers and tax preparation programs file tax returns electronically, some preparers submit paper returns instead.
Some tax preparation services will allow you to get your refund loaded onto a prepaid debit card. It can be appealing because it allows you to access your refund nearly instantly, but be on the lookout for costly fees that can make it less useful.
If you are eager to track the status of your refund, you can use the official "Where’s My Refund” tool. It will tell you the status of your tax return and refund, and give you an estimate of when to expect your refund to arrive. Updates are made daily, and the status of accounts is usually updated overnight.
You can use the tool on your computer or through the IRS2Go mobile app. To use the tool, you’ll need to provide the following information:
Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number
Exact refund amount
You can check the status 24 hours after e-filing your tax return. If you submit a paper return, it can take weeks or even months before the “Where’s My Refund” tool will have updated information.
The IRS says you should only reach out to ask about your refund if it’s been more than 21 days since you e-filed or more than six months since you submitted a paper return. If your delay has been longer, you can call the IRS or talk to a representative at a taxpayer assistance center.
There are several factors that can affect how quickly you receive your tax refund.
Filing a paper return can add several weeks or months to the refund process.
If there are errors on your tax return, it will take longer to process. The IRS will contact you by mail and let you know how to fix the errors so that your return can be properly processed.
No matter how early you file your return, the IRS can’t issue refunds to people who claimed the EITC or Additional Child Tax Credit before mid-February. And returns with those credits are subject to additional review, which can cause delays.
If your identity has been stolen, your information can be used to file a tax return and claim a tax refund. If the IRS receives a suspicious tax return, it will reach out to you for more information. If you suspect someone filed a tax return on your behalf, visit the IRS’ identity theft website for more information on what to do next.
If you decided to receive your refund as a check rather than through direct deposit, it can take several more weeks to get your money.
Now that you know how long it typically takes to get a tax refund, here are a few tips to help you get your refund as quickly as possible.
Filing your tax return electronically is the quickest way to get your refund. You can file your taxes electronically for free and, if you make $73,000 or less, you can use the IRS’s Free File tax software to get guided tax preparation services at no cost.
The majority — about 92% — of refunds are issued via direct deposit. If you have a checking or savings account that allows direct deposit, opting for direct deposit will help you get your refund much faster.
Make sure your tax return is accurate to avoid delays. The IRS will contact you if there are any mistakes on your return, and you’ll need to take action to fix them. Don’t be afraid to double-check your tax preparer’s work! Simple mistakes, such as mistyping Social Security numbers or names, could delay your refund,
You can check the status of your refund using the “Where’s My Refund” tool on the IRS website. Updates are made daily, so you can check back often for the latest information.
By following these tips, you can minimize the wait time for your tax refund. In the meantime, start thinking of ways to use your refund wisely, whether that’s by paying down debt, building an emergency fund, or investing for your future.
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