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Yes, the IRS is still sending tax refunds. How to track your money and see why it’s delayed – CNET

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The IRS is juggling processing refunds with limited live assistance this summer. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Has your refund still not arrived even though it’s been weeks since you filed? Because of the pandemic, the IRS is still trying to catch up on processing 2020 tax returns that need corrections or adjustments. The agency did announce last week it has processed all tax returns received before 2021, but only those that were error-free and didn’t need additional review. If you’re planning to use your refund for daily expenses or debt, how long can you expect to wait?

Alongside processing tax returns, the IRS is also preparing to send out the child tax credit payments that start July 15, and is still sending out weekly batches of stimulus checks. The agency is also sending supplemental refunds for taxed unemployment benefits. With all that juggling, the IRS is taking much longer than the standard 21 days to send refunds. It also says you might have to just wait for the IRS to explain the special handling of your return, and that corresponding by phone won’t speed up the process. 

We can tell you how to get your personalized refund status online and review some handy FAQs. For more IRS money, here are several ways to know if you qualify for the child tax credit. And there are ways to track your third stimulus check if that hasn’t arrived. If you’re curious about future stimulus payments or the latest infrastructure deal, we can tell you about that as well. This story is updated regularly. 

What’s holding up your tax refund?

Because of the pandemic, the IRS ran at restricted capacity in 2020, which put a strain on its ability to process tax returns. The IRS is open again and currently processing mail, tax returns, payments, refunds and correspondence, but limited resources continue to cause delays.

The IRS said it’s issuing most refunds in less than 21 days. However, according to its FAQ, some are still taking longer, including mailed paper tax returns and manual processing. The IRS said it’s also taking more time for 2020 tax returns that require review, such as determining recovery rebate credit amounts for the first and second stimulus checks — or figuring earned income tax credit and additional child tax credit amounts.

Here’s a list of reasons your refund might be delayed: 

  • Your tax return has errors.
  • It’s incomplete.
  • Your refund is suspected of identity theft or fraud.
  • You filed for the earned income tax credit or additional child tax credit.
  • Your return needs further review.
  • Your return includes Form 8379 (PDF), injured spouse allocation — this could take up to 14 weeks to process.

If the delay is due to a necessary tax correction made to a recovery rebate credit, earned income tax or additional child tax credit claimed on your return, the IRS will send you an explanation. If there’s a problem that needs to be fixed, the IRS will first try to proceed without contacting you. However, if it needs any more information, it will write you a letter. 

Track the status of your IRS tax refund online today

To check the status of your income tax refund using the IRS tracker tools, you’ll need to give some information: your Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, your filing status — single, married or head of household — and your refund amount in whole dollars, which you can find on your tax return. Also, make sure it’s been at least 24 hours (or up to four weeks if you mailed your return) before you start tracking your refund. 

Using the IRS tool Where’s My Refund, enter your SSN or ITIN, your filing status and your exact refund amount, then press Submit. If you entered your information correctly, you’ll be taken to a page that shows your refund status. If not, you may be asked to verify your personal tax data and try again. If all the information looks correct, you’ll need to enter the date you filed your taxes, along with whether you filed electronically or on paper.

The IRS also has a mobile app called IRS2Go that checks your tax refund status. The IRS updates the data in this tool overnight, so if you don’t see a status change after 24 hours or more, check back the following day. Once your return and refund are approved, you’ll receive a personalized date to expect your money. 

Where’s My Refund has information on the most recent tax refund that the IRS has on file within the past two years, so if you’re looking for return information from previous years you’ll need to contact the IRS for further help. 

Status messages from the IRS tracking tool you could see

Both IRS tools (online and mobile app) will show you one of three messages to explain your tax return status.

  • Received: The IRS now has your tax return and is working to process it.
  • Approved: The IRS has processed your return and confirmed the amount of your refund, if you’re owed one.
  • Sent: Your refund is now on its way to your bank via direct deposit or as a paper check sent to your mailbox. (Here’s how to change the address on file if you moved.)

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How long you might have to wait before your tax refund arrives

The IRS usually issues tax refunds within three weeks, but some taxpayers have been waiting months to receive their payments. If there are any errors, or if you filed a claim for an earned income tax credit or the child tax credit, the wait could be pretty lengthy. If there is an issue holding up your return, the resolution “depends on how quickly and accurately you respond, and the ability of IRS staff trained and working under social distancing requirements to complete the processing of your return,” according to its website

The date you get your tax refund also depends on how you filed your return. For example, with refunds going into your bank account via direct deposit, it could take an additional five days for your bank to post the money to your account. This means if it took the IRS the full 21 days to issue your check and your bank five days to post it, you could be waiting a total of 26 days to get your money. 

If you submitted your tax return by mail, the IRS says it could take six to eight weeks for your tax refund to arrive. That’s where tracking your refund comes in handy. 

Was an IRS TREAS 310 direct-deposited in your bank account?

If you receive your tax refund by direct deposit, you may see IRS TREAS 310 for the transaction. The 310 identifies the transaction as an IRS tax refund. This would also apply to the case of those receiving an automatic adjustment on their tax return or a refund due to new legislation on tax-free unemployment benefits. You may also see TAX REF in the description field for a refund.

If you see a 449 instead, it means your refund has been offset for delinquent debt.

Who do I call about my tax refund? The IRS?

While you could try calling the IRS to check your status, the agency’s live phone assistance is extremely limited right now, so you will likely wait on hold for a while to speak to a representative. The IRS says it’s working hard to get through the backlog and that you shouldn’t file a second tax return or contact the IRS about the status of your return.

The IRS says you should only call if it’s been 21 days or more since you filed your taxes online, or if the Where’s My Refund tool tells you to contact the IRS. Here’s the number to call: 800-829-1040. 

Why you might get a paper check in the mail instead of a direct deposit

There are a couple of reasons that your refund would be mailed to you. Your money can only be electronically deposited into a bank account with your name, your spouse’s name or a joint account. If that’s not the reason, you may be getting multiple refund checks, and the IRS can only direct-deposit up to three refunds to one account. Additional refunds must be mailed. Lastly, your bank may reject the deposit and this would be the IRS’ next best way to refund your money quickly. 

You can also check your unemployment tax refund status online

Those who collected unemployment benefits in 2020 and filed their tax returns early have started to receive additional tax refunds from the IRS. Under new rules from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, millions of people who paid tax on unemployment compensation could be eligible for a hefty sum of money back. 

However, it might not be possible to track the status of that refund using the online tools above. To find out when the IRS processed your refund and for how much, we recommend locating your tax transcript by logging in to your account and viewing the transactions listed there. We explain how to do that here

For more information about your 2020 taxes, here’s how to claim missing stimulus money on your taxes and everything to know about the third stimulus check.