Just one week after the tax filing period opened on Feb. 12, the IRS received around 35 million tax returns as taxpayers race to file and get their refunds. The last date to file your 2020 individual tax returns is April 15. Usually, the IRS issues refunds in as little as three weeks. The timeline is based on when you submitted your return, how you filed, and what tax credits you claimed.
The fastest way to receive your refund is by e-filing your taxes and selecting the direct deposit payment method. In contrast, the IRS takes a long time to issue refunds if the returns are filed on paper or if the payment method is to issue a check.
How to check the status of a tax refund
You can track the status of a tax refund by using the IRS online Where’s My Refund portal. The online tool is updated once a day—usually overnight. Refund information is available 24 hours after e-filing or four weeks after filing paper returns. The IRS tool will tell you whether your tax return has been received, whether your tax refund has been approved, and whether it has been sent to you.
To access the IRS online portal, you will need your individual taxpayer identification number, social security number, your filing status, and the exact tax refund amount.
Why your tax refund might be delayed
Even if you submit your returns electronically and request direct deposit, the IRS still takes additional time to process certain tax returns. The most common reasons for a delay include mistakes, incomplete returns, fraud or identity theft, or further review. Also, processing a return could be delayed by about 14 weeks if it includes Form 8379 (injured spouse allocation). The IRS will contact you by mail if more details are required to process your returns.
This year, the IRS expects that taxpayers will have to wait longer than normal for refunds. It might take longer than 21 days to process refunds because the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult to process the paper returns.
Checking the refund status for amended tax returns
You can’t check the tax refund status for an amended tax return on the Where’s My Refund portal. You will need to visit Where’s My Amended Return? portal. Usually, it takes the IRS up to 16 weeks to process an amended tax return.
For fiscal 2020, the IRS paid about $3.03 billion in interest to taxpayers since the agency didn't process refunds on time, according to a report published by the Government Accountability Office. That’s a nearly 47 percent rise compared to $2.06 billion interest payments in fiscal 2019.
Usually, the IRS has a 45-day interest-free processing window if the tax return is submitted on time. If the IRS fails to process it within this time period, the interest would be added to the refund.