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Published: January 6, 2020   |   Last Updated: November 18, 2020

Important information you need to know about refunds

Planning for a refund this year? Use these tax tips and find out what you need to know and understand about tax refund timing, when you could receive it and why you may only get part or none at all.


General Information

Different factors can affect the timing of a refund. The IRS and partners in the tax industry continue to strengthen tax security reviews to help protect against identity theft and refund fraud.

While some tax returns require additional review and take longer to process than others, it may be necessary when a return has errors, is incomplete or is affected by identity theft or fraud. A refund delay can happen when the IRS must contact you by mail to request additional information needed to process your tax return.

  • Generally, the IRS issues most refunds in less than 21 days. However, if information from reporting sources such as your employer, your bank or others is not received timely when the IRS cross-checks your data, it can delay the issuance of your refund.
    • Direct deposit is the fastest way to get your refund. Simply request it in the software you are using or add your bank routing information to your paper return.

The quickest and easiest way to track your refund is to use the Where’s My Refund? ‎tool on IRS.gov or download the IRS2Go app on your mobile device. You can also check the IRS’s What to Expect for Refunds web page for answers to frequently asked questions. The IRS “When Will I Get My Refund? video provides details on what info you’ll need to check your refund status.

Delayed Release

Refund timing for Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) filers is different than from anyone else. By law, neither the IRS nor the Taxpayer Advocate Service can release refunds related to these tax returns until after mid-February.

  • Generally, the earliest EITC/ACTC related refunds are available in taxpayer bank accounts or on debit cards by the first week of March, if you chose direct deposit and there are no other issues with the tax return. If there are other items that need addressing, the refund may be delayed further.

If you claim these two tax credits, you should know that you won’t see the status of your refund on Where’s My Refund?, the IRS2Go app or through tax software packages until at least the end of February.

Certain Past-due Debts Can Reduce Refunds

By law, the Department of Treasury’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service (BFS) issues IRS tax refunds and conducts the Treasury Offset Program (TOP). BFS may reduce a taxpayer’s refund and offset all or part of the refund to pay past-due federal tax, state income tax, state unemployment compensation debts, child support, spousal support or other federal nontax debts, such as student loans.

  • BFS will reduce the refund to pay off the debt owed and send a notice to the taxpayer if a refund offset occurs. Any portion of the remaining refund after offset is issued in a check or direct deposited to you as originally requested on your tax return.
  • Separate from the TOP, refund amounts may also be adjusted due to changes the IRS made to the tax return.

For more information on any of these refund offset possibilities, including lost or stolen refunds, see our website’s Get Help tax topic pages.

Financial Hardship

Have you tried to get your refund, and now are having financial hardship? There are certain types of issues where the IRS itself can generally provide the service you need, without our involvement.

However, if you’ve contacted the IRS and tried to get your refund unsuccessfully, unless it is because of a law, and not having the refund is causing you a financial hardship, the Taxpayer Advocate Service may be able to help. Our priority is always helping the taxpayers who need us most, so you may need to provide evidence to support your hardship claim in order to request an expedited refund.

Get More Tax Filing Tips by Joining Us at an Event Near You

The Taxpayer Advocate Service is holding events around the country the week of January 13-17, 2020. The main purpose of these events is to help taxpayers who complete their own tax return, whether through software or paper, by providing tips for avoiding federal filing and processing delays. The events are free, and no appointment is needed.

You can also go to our TAS Tax Tips page throughout the upcoming filing season to see more helpful information.

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