Tips to Get Your Tax Refund Faster and When to Expect Your Refund

Waiting for a tax refund can be frustrating. It takes time for the government to process your refund and get it into your hands. But did you know there are things you can do to help speed up the process? 

Check out these  dos and don’ts to get your refund as fast as possible. Plus, get an idea of how long it’ll take. Note: The time frames in this article are for the IRS and federal tax returns. For state tax filings the timeframes will vary depending on the state. 

When Filing Taxes, Don’t:

  1. Don’t take the line of credit or loan before you file or when you file if it can be avoided. If you read the fine print whe you file, you’ll typically see a warning that borrowing against your refund or paying tax prep or tax software fees from your refund may cause a delay in receiving your refund.  
    • Most tax refunds are received within two weeks and the official IRS statement is within 21 days. (This is for electronic filing and direct deposit). When you borrow against your refund, you aren’t using your refund money, you are borrowing. There are often fees and interest when borrowing against your future refund. 
    • If your refund is delayed, or modified (possibly to no refund at all), you may have a debt that has not been paid. Not only do you have to pay that debt, you may have additional fees and interest. When borrowing against your refund (or paying fees out of the refund) your refund flows through a third party instead of going directly to you. 
  1. Don’t mail in your tax return unless absolutely necessary. The IRS says you should receive a refund from a mailed in return within 6 to 8 weeks.That is considerably longer than the “within 21 days” the IRS says it will take for an electronic refund. Also note during the COVID pandemic processing times for paper tax returns was often much longer than 6 to 8 weeks. A mailed in tax return can also be lost in the mail. An electronic return isn’t likely to be misplaced. 
  2. Don’t opt to receive a check. Instead opt for direct deposit. The IRS states that if you file electronically and you choose to receive a check for your refund, it will typically take 3 to 4 weeks to get your refund. Again, that this will be longer than the “within 21 days” the IRS says it will take for an electronic refund. 

When Filing Taxes, Do:

  1. Do wait until you’re sure you have all the tax information and reported income documents (w-2’s, 1099’s, etc.). It can be tempting to get that tax return filed as soon as possible, especially if you think that last document won’t make a difference. Don’t let that temptation lead you to file before ready. In some cases, your return will just get rejected. In other cases, the IRS may just modify your tax return. And still in other cases, when certain information is missing, the IRS will put the processing on hold and send you a letter requesting the information. This will likely result in an additional delay for your refund.
  2. Do be certain the tax return is correct. If the information is wrong, the tax return may get rejected outright. And if there is missing information, the processing may be delayed. “I guess it is right” is not a good approach for taxes, both for accuracy and for timely receipt of refunds. 
  3. Do file electronically and do receive the refund electronically via direct deposit. Do not do any tax return filings on paper (or through the mail) and do not receive any refunds by check unless there is no other choice. That said, there are times when you have to file a tax return on paper and through the mail. Some forms and tax situations require that the tax return be filed on paper. If that is your situation, consider mailing with tracking and possibly with return receipt so you can be certain the IRS receives the tax return. 

When should I expect my return?

It’s reasonable to expect your refund within 21 days when filing electronically and with direct deposit. For most taxpayers, it seems to take between one to two weeks. The fastest I’ve seen is two days. It’s also reasonable that some of the millions of tax returns will take longer than 21 days to process. 

One reason return processing may take longer is that the IRS will check to ensure mistakes aren’t being made. It is possible that your return will be flagged such that additional information will be needed to complete processing. This sometimes happens for random identity checks designed to fight identity theft. 

One final “Don’t” for the tax season:

Don’t “spend” the refund until you receive it. As we indicated, it can be delayed, and it can be modified. Delays and modified tax returns can cause financial distress if financial commitments were made that cant be met. 

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