What to do when you didn’t receive your tax refund

Let’s look at what to do if you think your tax refund is delayed. 

Causes for tax refund delays

If you submitted a tax return electronically and have requested to receive your tax refund via direct deposit, the IRS states you will normally receive a refund within 21 days. 

There are exceptions. 

  1. If you are claiming Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and/or additional Child Tax Credit your tax return will not be processed until Feb. 15. This means you would see a refund within 21 days after Feb. 15 if you filed the tax return before Feb. 15. 
  2. If your tax return gets flagged that it needs additional information or additional attention, that could cause your tax refund to be delayed. In cases when the IRS is looking for additional information or taking a closer look, they will send you a letter. The letter unfortunately may not be very timely. 
  3. If you filed Form 8379 Injured Spouse Allocation, that may add 14 weeks to the processing of your tax return.
  4. If you electronically filed and are expecting a physical check, that can normally take up to four weeks. 
  5. If you mail in your tax return, you can typically expect an electronic refund to be deposited within four to six weeks and a check mailed within six to eight weeks. However, 2020 and 2021 have not been typical and for many taxpayers both electronic and paper filings and payments have seen delays.

Check the status of my tax refund

To check the status of a tax refund you can use the IRS2Go app or the Where’s My Refund Tool

If either of those tools states your tax return was received, it is being processed. The IRS says unless the Where’s My Refund Tool or IRS2Go app tells you to call the IRS, you will not get any additional information by calling them. 

The IRS says to start checking a paper tax return status at the four-week point. 

Tax refunds and processing for amended returns take longer (up to 16 weeks). You can check the status of your amended return at Where’s My Amended Return.

If you’d like to stay up-to-date on the processing time of your tax return, you could see if your tax account has any additional information. 

You can also call IRS customer support at 1-800-829-1040 to see if anything can be done, but I recommend waiting until you are past the expected timelines indicated above.

Another useful resource is the local Taxpayer Assistance Center. If a tax professional assisted you in filing your tax return, they may be able to assist you in determining the cause of the delay. 

What if I didn’t receive my tax refund

If you are told or see in the Where’s My Refund tool or IRS2Go a date for the payment, the IRS has some advice. 

They recommend waiting five days after a direct deposit is supposed to occur before taking action. If a check was issued they recommend waiting longer since it can take several weeks to receive. 

If you never received an electronic payment that the IRS says it sent, file Form 3911 Taxpayer Statement Regarding Refund to initiate a trace. 

Your financial institution has up to 90 days to respond to a trace request. 

Additionally, Form 3911 is also used to initiate traces for missing economic impact payments and missing advance Child Tax Credit payments. 

The IRS has procedures they are required to follow for missing payments. These procedures can take time and this is especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you haven’t gotten the help you need from the IRS regarding a missing payment, consider contacting the Taxpayer Advocate Service for assistance. 

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