How to Find Your Tax Refund

Elizabeth Rosen
by Elizabeth Rosen, Contributor

Not long after you file your federal income tax return, you may find yourself asking one very important question: Where’s my refund?

If you are like most people, the last thing you want to do is wait several weeks or months to hear about the status of your federal tax refund. Rather than sit back and hope that your tax refund is on its way, there are a few things you can do to find out where it is.

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The IRS has an electronic system in place, called “Where’s My Refund – It’s Quick, Easy, and Secure.” This is an online tool on the IRS website that can help you figure out the status of your tax refund so you can avoid having to navigate through the phone system. The “Where’s My Refund” electronic tool helps taxpayers check on the status of their tax returns and refunds. It also helps the IRS to reduce the number of phone calls they receive from confused and frustrated taxpayers looking for their tax refunds.

If you filed your income tax return electronically (also known as “e-filing”), you will be able to start checking on the status of your tax refund within 24 hours after the IRS acknowledges receipt of your e-filed return. If you file your tax return by paper mail, it will take the IRS longer to receive and process your return, which means you will probably not able to use the “Where’s My Refund” system for at least 4 weeks. This is another reason why e-filing has become so popular among taxpayers.

The “Where’s My Refund?” online tool monitors the status of your tax refund by providing simple alerts based on 3 basic steps of the tax return and refund process: Tax Return Received, Tax Refund Approved, and Tax Refund Sent. In order to access the “Where’s My Refund” system, you will need to have several key pieces of information ready  ― this includes your filing status, Social Security Number (SSN), and the exact whole dollar amount of your tax refund. Without providing this information, you will not be able use the “Where’s My Refund” tool, and you may just have to wait it out and hope that your refund arrives soon enough.

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According to the IRS, the agency “issued more than 9 out of 10 refunds to taxpayers in less than 21 days last year.” This means that you can expect to receive your Federal refund within 21 days of e-filing your tax return. Once your tax refund has been issued, it may take 1-5 days for your financial institution to process the Direct Deposit. If you requested a paper check, it can take several weeks for it to arrive in the mail. If you filed a paper tax return AND requested a paper check, it may take up to 8 weeks before you receive your tax refund.

If your tax refund was returned to the IRS by the Post Office, you may be able to change your mailing address using the “Where’s My Refund” online tool. It is very important to make sure that the IRS has your correct address on file, or the arrival of your refund will likely be delayed.

For taxpayers whose tax refunds were lost or stolen, they are not out of luck either. You can initiate a refund trace by using the "Where's My Refund" system on the IRS website, or you can call the IRS toll-free number (800-829-1954) to speak with an agent. The IRS also allows you to request a replacement refund check once it's concluded that your original check was lost or stolen. However, don’t jump the gun and assume that your refund check disappeared just because a few weeks have gone by. Keep in mind that many other people are trying to locate their tax refunds as well, and the Post Office can get extremely busy during tax season.

READ: When Will I Get My Federal Tax Refund?