Once you have submitted and transmitted your tax return, the wait for your refund check begins. Upon acceptance, you are placed on the IRS payment schedule. It is only the IRS that has knowledge of how your tax return is being processed, whether you owe taxes or are due a refund.

IRS figures show that more than 90 percent of tax refunds are issued within 21 days. However, the exact timing of your refund may vary depending on a variety of factors, and in some instances, the process may take longer than expected.


various images depicting waiting for your tax refund

How long will my tax refund take?

More than nine out of ten taxpayers receive their refunds in less than three weeks.

However, the IRS cannot guarantee a 21-day delivery date for your tax refund. There are several factors - including your choices when you file - that can affect the time it takes for you to receive your tax refund.

If the IRS owes you a refund, you may choose how to receive it. You have the following options:

  • By direct deposit: The fastest way for you to receive your refund is via direct deposit into your bank account.
  • By mail: The IRS will mail you a paper check.
  • By card: You will receive a debit card that holds the value of the refund.
  • By bonds: The IRS purchases up to $5,000 in U.S. Savings Bonds for you.
  • By dividing the funds: Divide your refund among up to three accounts in your name, such as a traditional IRA, Roth IRA, or SEP-IRA.

How quickly you receive your tax refund depends on the delivery option you choose. Using direct deposit and electronically filing your tax return are the fastest ways to receive your refund, according to the IRS.

How Long Is The Tax Refund Process?

Based on your filing and delivery choices, here's an estimate of how soon you can expect to receive your tax refund.

Delivery Type Delivery Time
E-file with direct deposit 1-3 weeks
Paper file with direct deposit 3 weeks
E-file with mailed check 6-8 weeks
Paper file with mailed check 6-8 weeks

Factors that Affect the Timing of your Refund

There are also other factors that could slow down the processing of your tax refund, such as errors, incomplete returns, or fraud.

Due to special rules, some taxpayers who claim the tax credits such as the earned income tax credit (EITC) or the additional child tax credit (ACTC) may experience additional delays because their refunds will be held. If the IRS determines that your tax return needs further review, you should also expect to wait longer for your refund.

The IRS estimates that refunds for returns with errors or that require special handling may take up to four months. The IRS requires special handling for tax returns that claim the Recovery Rebate Credit or the EITC or ACTC incorrectly. The IRS may also delay a return if it suspects identity theft or fraud.

When you receive a letter from the IRS seeking more information or to verify your tax return, respond promptly. If you delay, your refund will take longer to process.

What About My State Tax Refund?

So far, we have discussed federal tax refunds. Each state approaches tax refunds in its own way, as you might expect.

If you filed your state tax return electronically, you will generally receive your refund within 30 days. The processing time for a paper tax return can take up to 12 weeks or longer.

You can check the status of your refund by contacting your state tax agency or visiting the Department of Revenue website.

How to Track the Progress of Your Refund

IRS2Go, an app that allows you to track your tax refund status, has eliminated the guesswork of waiting for your tax refund. In addition, you can check the status of your refund using the “Where's My Refund?” online portal.

Both tools provide taxpayers with personalized daily updates 24 hours after e-filing or four weeks after a paper return is received by the IRS.

You can track your refund through three stages once you enter some basic information such as your Social Security number or ITIN, filing status, and the exact amount of your refund.

These are the three stages of your return:

  1. Return received.
  2. Refund approved.
  3. Refund sent.

In the third stage of the refund process, your financial institution will process a direct deposit or a paper check will be mailed to you.

How to Recieve your Tax Return Faster

To receive your tax refund as soon as possible, file your return early, check for mistakes before submitting it, and file electronically.

While you can receive your refund by check, it'll arrive much faster if you have it deposited directly into your checking account, savings account, or individual retirement account (IRA).

Don't forget to use the IRS Where's My Refund tool if you're curious about the status of your refund. The tool lets you see the status of your refund in real-time.

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