ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receiveour biggest storiesas soon as they’re published.
So, you’ve figured out your deductions orcredits, calculated howmuch you owedin taxes, and successfullyfiled your return (for free, hopefully). If you’re sitting around wondering where your money is, you’re not alone. Lucky for you, the IRS offers several ways to track your tax return.
How do I track my tax return?
Once you have filed, there are three options for tracking your refund:
- Online:You can check your refund status on theIRS website. See below for the information you’ll need to have handy.
- App:TheIRS2Go appis available for both iPhone (iOS) and Android users. You can download it using:
- Phone:TheIRS refund hotlineis800-829-1954. This option is especially useful for those whodo not have internet access.
What information do I need to track my tax return?
To track your tax return, there arethree things youneed:
- Your Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
- Your filing status: single filer, married filing jointly, married filing separately or head of household. Find out what these meanhere.
- Your exact refund amount.
When can I check on my refund?
If you e-filed:You can check on your refund after 24 hours. The IRS recommends getting in touch if you haven’t received your tax refund after21 days.
If you filed by mail:You usually aren’t able to check your status for four weeks if you mailed in your taxes, but you may have already received your refund by that time.The IRS is warning ofweekslongdelays in 2021 for mailed-in taxes.If you mailed in your taxes and arewaiting for your refund, the IRS advises you tonotfile a second time andnotcall them.
What is the tax refund schedule?
The IRSrefusestoguaranteea day by which you’ll get your refund. Timing also depends on how you file and whether you get your return via direct deposit or check. For most people who file electronically though, the IRS issues refunds around21 days after filing.
What are the tax return statuses?
When you check on your return, there are threestatusesyou might get:
- Your return has beenreceived.
- Your refund has beenapproved.
- Your refund has beensent.
Why am I not getting my refund?
There are a number of reasons why your refund may be held up. There might be a delay if:
- You filed by snail mail. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRS has asevere paperwork backlog.
- Your return includes any errors or is incomplete.
- You’ve been the victim of identity theft or fraud.
- You’ve beenaudited. (Here’ssome information about how your audit might work.)
- You filed for theearned income tax creditor theadditional child tax credit. By law, the IRS cannotissueyour refund before mid-February.
- You owe back taxes, state taxes, student loans or child support. In some cases, the IRS will put your refund toward the money you owe. You will receive a letter from the IRS explaining if your refund was used to pay another debt you owe.
- You’ve been the victim of a scam. Read more about thetypes of scamsthat have beenpopular recently.
Can I get my tax refund early?
Short answer: no.
No one — not the IRS, a bank or anyone else — can give you immediate access to your tax refund. That said, some tax-preparation companies do offer options to effectively give you access to money sooner, either through refund anticipation checks or a refund advance loan.
“Refund advance loans,” or RALs,are loans secured by and repaid directly from your tax refund. This money is not your actual tax refund. Sometimes, the money will be deposited on aprepaid cardthat comes withadditional fees. These days, there are two types of RALs.
“No Fee” or “Advance” RALsare often called a “refund advance” that claims to have “no fees.” However, in order to apply for and receive the loan, you have to use the company’s tax-prep service, which may havesignificant costs. This can route eligible people away fromfree alternativeswith no guarantee that a loan of any amount will be approved by the bank. There may also be hidden fees for these loans.
Interest-bearing RALsare a new option where lenders offer much larger RALs on the condition that you waive the alternatively available “no-fee” RAL. These RALs impose interest on the full amount of the loan and in some cases charge origination fees.
“Tax preparers and lenders are again offering interest-bearing RALs in the ongoing quest to skim as much of taxpayers’ refunds as possible,” the National Consumer Law Center wrote in anannual issue brief. “Taxpayers seeking the no risk, ‘no-fee’ RALs of years past could instead end up with interest-bearing loans instead or no loan at all.”
Ifa refund anticipation loan is not approved,you will likely still owe the tax-prep costs, which may be taken out of your refund when it is eventually paid.This deduction will be made using a product called a “refund anticipation check,” RAC or “refund transfer,” which can come with fees.
A refund anticipation check, or RAC,lets you put off paying for the tax-preparation service you use to file your taxes. Typically, you’ll agree to pay an additional fee to have the cost of tax preparation deducted from your refund amount. Once the IRS issues your refund, the preparer deducts this fee and the cost of preparing your taxes and then gives the rest of the money to you. Keep in mind that if you don’t have the money to use a paid tax service, you may be ableto file completely for freewithout worrying about any of these fees.
It’s not always clearly explained, but both of these options usually involve a temporary bank account being set up in your name, which is how the preparer takes out their portion of your refund. A ProPublica analysis of IRS data found that in 2018, around 14% of tax filers either got an RAL or an RAC.
Before agreeing to use a tax-preparation service in exchange for an advance, read the terms carefully and make sure you understand the total cost to you.
About this guide:
ProPublica has reported extensively abouttaxes, the IRS Free File program and theIRS. Specifically, we’ve covered the ways in which the for-profit tax preparation industry — companies likeIntuit (TurboTax), H&R Block and Tax Slayer — haslobbiedfor theFree File program, thensystematicallyunderminedit withevasive search tacticsandconfusing design. These companies also work to fill search engine results with tax “guides” that sometimes routeusers to paid products. This guide is not personalized tax advice, and you should speak to a tax professional about your specific tax situation.