What’s one of the first things on your mind after you submit your tax return each year?
I’ve got a guess: Where’s my tax refund?
Even if you expect to receive a tax refund from the IRS, it can feel like “found money.” It’s a nice boost to your normal income.
However, the IRS has issued a warning to American taxpayers that you could experience significant delays in getting your refund this year. IRS commissioner Chuck Rettig cited ongoing challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic and tax law changes in 2021 as reasons.
“IRS employees are working hard to deliver a successful 2022 tax season while facing enormous challenges related to the pandemic,” Rettig said. “We will work hard to deliver refunds quickly, serve as many people as possible and work to catch up on past tax returns affected by the pandemic.”
The IRS provides some guidelines for exactly how long you can expect to wait, which I’ll get into later in this article. But those guidelines could be wishful thinking, at least to an extent, as money expert Clark Howard cautioned in January.
“This is going to be a tough, tough tax year. The IRS is extremely short-staffed,” Clark says. They were very upfront that they’re going to screw up this tax season. That they’re not going to be able to process refunds in an orderly or timely basis.”
Clark also thinks this year is a prime example of why you shouldn’t be overly aggressive about withholding taxes on your paycheck, which I’ll discuss later in the article.
Table of Contents
- How To Track Your Refund
- How Long You Can Expect To Wait for Your Tax Refund
- Where’s My Tax Refund: Tips To Avoid Delays
- Why Clark Thinks Aggressively Withholding Taxes on Your Paycheck is the Wrong Move
How To Track Your Tax Refund
You can track your refund status on the IRS website or via the IRS mobile app.
Either way, it’s important to temper your expectations in terms of your wait time. The IRS gives some helpful estimates as to when your return will get processed, but there are no guarantees.
Where’s My Tax Refund? IRS Webpage
You can check your tax refund status on the IRS website through a page called Where’s My Refund?. You need three things to check your status:
- Social Security number or ITIN
- Filing status
- Exact refund amount
The “Where’s My Refund?” tool also indicates three different status levels for your refund:
Assuming you file electronically, you can begin to check your status 24 hours after you file, but the information won’t be available for four weeks if you mail a paper return. The IRS says it makes daily updates to the page, usually overnight.
The IRS makes it clear that you shouldn’t call looking for your tax refund unless it’s been at least 21 days since you e-filed and the Where’s My Refund tool tells you to contact the agency.
IRS2Go Mobile App
You can search for “IRS2Go” on your smartphone’s app store to find it. If you’re using a mobile device, you can use the link the IRS provides on its website to download the app.
The mobile app follows the same protocols as the IRS webpage.
How Long You Can Expect To Wait for Your Tax Refund
The IRS says that it issues tax refunds for “most” returns within 21 days. So don’t worry if you haven’t gotten your money within a few weeks.
Remember, the IRS has also warned about longer-than-usual backlogs as the team processes returns this year for a variety of reasons, including the compound effects of the pandemic.
The 21-day benchmark is only for people who file electronically and have no issue with their returns. The IRS says “most” of that group, but not all, can expect to get their funds within three weeks.
If you reach the 21-day mark without seeing the money, it’s a great time to check the “Where’s My Refund?” page on the IRS website or the IRS2Go mobile app.
There are a number of reasons why you could see further delays, which I’m about to explain.
Where’s My Tax Refund: Tips To Avoid Delays
There are plenty of reasons this year why it may take longer than normal to process your tax return. But there are two simple things you can do to give yourself the best possible chance at a quick turnaround.
Here are some of the best tips to follow if you’re keen on avoiding a delay.
1. File your return electronically.
You’re sacrificing time if you’re sending your return in the mail. E-filing allows you to check the status of your refund within 24 hours and at least gives you a chance to see the money within the 21-day window. The IRS instructs people who use physical mail to not even check the status of their return until four weeks after sending it.
For best results, you should use direct deposit when you file, if you need to complete a transaction.
You can use IRS Free File to file your return free of charge. Otherwise, you can e-file through tax software or via a trusted tax professional.
2. File a complete and accurate tax return.
One of the easiest ways for your tax refund to hit a snag is if you fail to complete your return or there are mistakes or inaccuracies in your return.
Depending on how complicated your tax return is for 2021, this can be more or less difficult. Here’s how to determine whether you need to hire someone to do your taxes.
If your 2020 return hasn’t been processed yet, make sure to enter $0 for last year’s AGI (Adjusted Gross Income) on your 2021 return.
3. Expect delays if your return includes some specific credits or refunds.
There are several specific circumstances that may require the IRS to take extra time processing your return.
The IRS says it can’t issue any refunds before mid-February in order to “stop fraudulent refunds.” That’s about a month after the IRS started accepting 2021 returns, so it’s possibly an indication that you need to wait at least a month if you fit the bill.
Some of the specific things that can lengthen your wait include:
- Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
- Child Tax Credit
- Received a third Economic Impact Payment
4. Expect delays if you’ve been affected by identity theft or tax fraud.
If you’re a victim of identity theft or tax fraud, “Where’s my tax refund?” may not be the first question on your to-do list. But unfortunately, on top of the stress you’re facing in that rough situation, you should expect it to take time — perhaps considerable time — to receive your tax refund.
Here are five common tax scams to pay attention to in 2022.
Why Clark Thinks Aggressively Withholding Taxes on Your Paycheck is the Wrong Move
Some people intentionally withhold taxes from their paychecks throughout the year as a method of forced savings. While that could be the right solution for some, it’s usually not ideal.
For a long time, Clark has advocated against withholding too many taxes to the point of receiving a decent-sized tax refund, because you’re just providing the government with a free loan. This year, the IRS has communicated that it will experience backlogs as it processes returns, so that free loan can extend longer than you’d like.
“If somebody files a tax return as tax ID theft, your refund goes to the crook. Now the IRS can’t even get your refund to you even when you legitimately file your own return in a reasonable period of time,” Clark says.
“You should not set yourself up with extra withholding at work as a method of savings. Instead, set up direct deposit from your paycheck into a savings account at an online bank or a credit union. Why an online bank or credit union? The interest they’re going to pay you is better: not great, but better.”
Need help kickstarting your savings habits? It’s not too late to join other Clark.com readers on their quests to save $2,022 in 2022 by following our savings guide.
If I’ve learned anything during the pandemic, it’s that it can be incredibly hard to be patient. But at times, it’s critically important.
Waiting on your tax refund is one of those times. There’s real potential that your wait will be longer than usual this year. But the IRS gives you easy ways to track the status of your tax return.
If you haven’t filed yet, be sure to e-file an accurate, complete return and request your refund to be sent via direct deposit for the fastest possible results.