Tax refund timeline: Here's when to expect yours

Tax refunds are often one of the biggest windfalls of the year for many Americans, so knowing when it will arrive is key. A chart from CPA Practice Advisor can help you plan.

“We’ve developed the tax refund chart over the past 20 years in order to help taxpayers get a basic idea on when they may receive their refunds,” said Isaac M. O’Bannon, managing editor of CPA Practice Advisor, a tech resource for accountants. “The chart is based on historical trends and IRS policies, but taxpayers should know that some issues can affect their individual refunds, including specific credits and deductions they are claiming.” 

Most refunds should arrive within 21 days of filing your taxes, according to the Internal Revenue Service, as long as your return doesn’t require additional review. But if you claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC), the IRS by law can't issue your refund until mid-February.

It also took the IRS more than 21 days to issue refunds for some 2020 tax returns that needed review, including those with incorrect Recovery Rebate Credit amounts, or that used 2019 income to determine the EITC or ACTC amounts.

Overall, the fastest way to get your refund is to file electronically and choose direct deposit.

How to track your tax refund

Once you file your taxes, you can track your tax refund with the agency's Where’s My Refund? tool online or on its free mobile app, IRS2Go.

You can get information on your refund 24 hours after the IRS receives your e-filed tax return or four weeks after you mailed a paper return. The tool updates once a day, usually overnight. 

The tool will show when the IRS received your tax return, when it approved your refund, and when it sent the refund. It will also provide a date that your refund should arrive.

To use the tracker, you need to provide the following information:

  • Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)

  • Your filing status

  • Your exact refund amount

If you chose the direct deposit option for your refund, wait five days after the IRS sends the refund to check with your bank about it. 

If you requested direct deposit, the IRS may still mail a paper check if:

  • The bank account you requested for direct deposit is not in your name, your spouse's name, or in a joint account;

  • Your bank rejected the direct deposit;

  • Or the bank account is being used for too many electronic refunds. The IRS can deposit no more than three electronic tax refunds into one account.

Why is my tax refund delayed?

Several reasons could hold up your tax refund. These include:

  • Your return is incomplete

  • Your return needs further review

  • Your return is affected by identity theft or fraud

  • Your return claims the Earned Income Tax Credit or an Additional Child Tax Credit

  • Your return includes Form 8379, which could take up to 14 weeks to process

If the IRS is processing your return or correcting an error, the Where’s My Refund? tool or the agency's phone representatives won't be able to tell you when to expect your refund, a shortcoming that the Taxpayer Advocate, the in-house IRS watchdog, pointed out in her annual report.

You should call the IRS if it's been more than 21 days since you e-filed your taxes or if the Where's My Refund tool tells you to contact the agency.

Why is my tax refund more or less than the amount calculated on my tax return?

Some or all of your refund may have offset past-due federal tax, state income tax, state unemployment compensation debt, child support, spousal support, or other federal non-tax debts like student loans. 

The IRA may also have changed the refund amount based on changes it made to your tax return, including corrections to an erroneous Recovery Rebate Credit amount. If so, the agency will send a notice explaining the corrections and the Where’s My Refund? tool also will show the reasons for the difference in refund amounts.

Your refund also may be smaller than expected because you received advance monthly Child Tax Credit payments from July through December last year. Other key tax changes this year may also affect the size of your return.

Janna is the personal finance editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @JannaHerron.

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