How To Check Your Tax Refund Status Online and Trace Your Refund

Most Refunds Are Issued Within Three Weeks

Track Down Your IRS Refund
Photo:

The Balance / Maritsa Patrinos

Waiting for your tax refund to find its way to your mailbox or into your bank account can be tough if you're strapped for cash and really need the money. Or maybe you're just looking forward to spending it. Either way, you want to know when you can expect to receive it.

The IRS provides an online tool that lets you check on your refund's status. There's a process for tracking down missing refunds as well if your refund doesn't arrive within the time frame you expect.

Key Takeaways

  • The IRS "Where's My Refund?" online tool is by far the easiest way to check on the status of your federal tax refund.
  • A "Where's My Refund?" tool is also available as part of a mobile app, IRS2GO, that you can install for free at Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play.
  • You can call the IRS, but it asks that you don't do so until at least three weeks have passed if you e-filed your tax return.
  • The IRS will trace your refund for you if it's gone missing.

The 'Where's My Refund?' Online Tool

The IRS indicates that it issues nine out of 10 refunds within three weeks if you choose direct deposit and you've e-filed your tax return. Refunds can take six to eight weeks if you file a paper return.

Go to Where's My Refund? on the IRS website to check the status of your refund. The tool is updated every 24 hours. You'll need some information:

  • Your Social Security number or Employer Identification Number as it appears on your tax return
  • The filing status you claimed on your return: single, head of household, married filing jointly, married filing separately, or qualifying widow(er)
  • The exact refund amount as shown on your tax return

You'll be redirected to a Refund Status Results screen when you plug in this information. This screen should say one of three things:

  • Return received
  • Refund approved
  • Refund sent

Note

The IRS urges taxpayers to file electronically and to receive their refund via direct deposit. This will help speed up the process for everyone.

You should see an estimated date for deposit into your bank account if your refund has been approved. There should also be a separate date for when you should contact your bank if you haven't received your refund by then.

The IRS2Go Mobile App

You can access the Where's My Refund tool from your laptop or desktop computer, or you can use the IRS2Go app if you prefer to use your mobile device. The app is available as a free download on iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon. You can use it to:

  • Check your refund status
  • Make a payment if you owe taxes
  • Get free tax guidance
  • Get security codes for certain online IRS services

Note

The IRS issued more than 125 million refunds for the tax year 2020 by Dec. 11, 2020. The average refund was $2,549. Overall, more than 169 million individual tax returns were processed.

Calling the IRS

The IRS asks that you don't call to check on your refund status unless it's been at least three weeks (21 days) since you've filed electronically, or six weeks since you've mailed in your paper return—unless the Where's My Refund tool tells you to do so.

You can access information about your refund on an automated line by calling toll-free at 800-829-1954.

Tracing a Refund Check That's Gone Missing

There's a process in place in case you lose your paper check or if it goes missing. You can ask the IRS to trace it by calling 800-829-1954 or by filling out and sending in Form 3911, the Taxpayer Statement Regarding Refund.

The IRS will determine whether the check was cashed. It will create a claims package that includes a copy of the endorsed, cashed check if it was indeed cashed. The agency will decide whether to issue a replacement check following a review, including the signature on the back of the cashed check. This process can take about six weeks.

Note

It will also issue a replacement check if the check wasn't cashed.

Direct deposit (the electronic transfer of funds right to your bank account) is the safest way to get your refund. You won't have to worry about a paper check getting lost in the mail, stolen, or misplaced once you have it in hand. But keep in mind that the IRS doesn't allow more than three direct deposits into the same bank account per tax year.

Check with your bank to see whether the refund has been received if you're waiting on a direct deposit and the anticipated date has passed. Incorrectly entering your bank account number or routing information on your tax return could cause your refund to go astray, so double-check that information. You can request that the deposit be stopped if the refund hasn't yet posted to the IRS system.

Note

The IRS can't compel a bank to redirect refunds that were deposited to the wrong bank account. You might have to pursue the matter with the bank or with the owner of the wrong account to recover the money, possibly by filing a lawsuit.

What if You Filed an Amended Return?

You might have to amend your tax return if you overlooked a key income statement or forgot to claim a valuable deduction. Amending your return might be necessary to calculate the correct amount of taxes owed or the refund that's due to you. You can still track the refund's status through the IRS website if you file an amended return.

Just plug in your Social Security number, date of birth, and ZIP code. An amended return can take up to three weeks to show up in the IRS system after you send it. It can take another 16 weeks to process, so you might need to be patient as you wait for the arrival of your refund.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long does it take for my tax refund to appear in my bank account?

It takes the IRS up to three weeks to send your refund if you've e-filed and you've opted to receive your refund via direct deposit. How long it takes to show in your account can vary by bank. It takes from one to five business days for your deposit to show up once the IRS sends your refund electronically. Your refund could take six to eight weeks to arrive if you opted for a paper check for some reason.

Why is my tax refund still being processed?

Your refund is most likely still being processed if it's been less than three weeks since you e-filed for direct deposit or less than six weeks since you filed by mail for a paper check. You can call the IRS to check on the delay after that time. Reasons for delay might include errors on your return, a mismatch on your direct deposit account, or that you filed an amended return.

How do I check the status of my state tax refund?

Each state has its own processes for handling tax returns. Check with your state agency to find the status of your state tax return.

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Sources
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. IRS. "How To File."

  2. IRS. "What to Expect for Refunds This Year."

  3. IRS. "Filing Season Statistics for Week Ending December 11, 2020."

  4. IRS. "Tax Season Refund Frequently Asked Questions."

  5. IRS. "Get Your Refund Faster: Tell IRS to Direct Deposit Your Refund to One, Two, or Three Accounts."

  6. IRS. "Topic No. 152 Refund Information."

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