This article was last updated on May 25
When it comes to tax season I receive a lot of reader questions, many tinged with a hint of desperation, around why IRS tax refunds are taking so long and what can be done to get refunds sooner rather than later. This is no different in the current tax season where a number of folks have commented on the extended delays they are seeing with the processing of their 2020 returns and payment of refunds in 2021.
In fact for the current tax season which ended on May 17th, the IRS has already announced that there will likely be longer than usual tax refund payment delays due to the payment and processing of new stimulus payments and tax credits over the new year and existing tax code changes to combat the COVID pandemic fallout.
In particular for those claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) refunds may not be processed and paid until late April in order to perform further identity verification checks and update systems that allows claimants to use 2019 tax year information to qualify for these credits due to a job or income loss in 2020.
Covered in this Article:
Other reasons your refund may be delayed per the IRS
- Additional or random security checks – especially if fraudulent activities were associated with your filing in the past
- Amended returns require additional, and manual processing, which can see refunds delayed for up to 16 weeks
- Missing or incomplete documentation or information in your return (most online tax filing software checks for this, but manually filed returns are more at risk)
- Incorrect bank details or account numbers provided in your return (see below for how to address)
- If you are using a pre-paid card for the first time and were using a middleman bank (SBBT, Republic, Bofi, etc), some people have had their refund not deposited because the middleman bank does not test deposits to ensure the account is active and correct
- You filed an injured spouse claim
- Refund claims with an application for an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) attached (see Topic 857 for more information on this)
- Refund offset which reduces your payment due to other federal or state obligations. See section below on this for more
- If you requested a refund of tax withheld on a Form 1042-S (PDF) by filing a Form 1040NR (PDF), allow up to 6 months from the original due date of the 1040NR return or the date you actually filed the 1040NR, whichever is later, to receive any refund due (see more details in tax topic 152)
As always keeping checking the IRS’ Where is My Refund Apps (WMR and IRS2GO) for exact dates on your refund payment. You can start checking on the status of your refund within 24 hours after the IRS receives your e-filed return or 4 weeks after you mail a paper return. The WMR apps displays your tax return processing through three stages: Return Received; Refund Approved; Refund Sent. You can see more on refunds in these 2 videos covering this topic
- When Will I Get My Tax Refund ? 2021 IRS Refund Processing Schedule and Top 3 Reasons For Delays
- IRS Refund Status Timing & Disappearing WMR/IRS2GO Bars
So what can you do if your tax refund is taking much longer to get than expected?
There are two main categories that cause your tax refund processing to taking longer than expected. Either something is wrong with your tax return filing, e.g. missing information, additional Identity fraud/verification (details below), incorrect social security numbers etc; or information from related sources (employer, ex-partner) do not add up. For example same dependent claimed in multiple tax returns. So here are a few things you can do to try and figure out why your tax refund is so taking so long to get to you.
- Check the IRS tax tool, where’s my refund (WMR) or IRS2Go mobile app, to get the official status of your refund (see estimated IRS refund schedule). It is updated daily (overnight) and provides the latest processing status of your tax refund. The IRS has announced that it expects to issue more than 90% of refunds to taxpayers in less than 21 days (not business days). So even if you have submitted all your documents you probably need to wait for at least 21 days before taking on more drastic actions. And if you paper filed, you may need to wait more than 6 weeks before hearing back from the IRS.
- Why is my e-filed tax return in “Pending” status and the IRS has no record of my tax return? TurboTax experts say that after e-filing, your federal return may sit in “Pending” status 24-48 hours before its processing status changes. If you contact the IRS or try to look up your return or refund status on their site while your return is in “Pending” status, don’t be alarmed if they tell you they have no record of your return. This is normal; once the IRS acknowledges your return, they will update your status to via WMR to Return Received, Refund Approved and Refund Sent. See this article for more details on what the WMR refund status’ mean.
- What do these IRS refund status’ mean? Return Received means the IRS has your tax return and is processing/reviewing it. Your estimated refund date will be available as soon as the IRS finishes processing your return and confirm that your refund has been approved. Generally it takes just a few days for the status to shift from Return Received to Refund Approved if all is in order. But any issues with processing your return will delay things and a refund date will not be provided until your refund has been approved.In some cases the refund tracker graphic (shown here) will not be shown if your return is being reviewed prior to step two: “Refund Approved,” and instead an explanation or instructions will be provided by the IRS depending on the situation. This can happen even if you previously checked Where’s My Refund? and it showed the status as “Return Received” along with the tracker. If the IRS needs more information specific to your return, they will contact you by mail (be aware of IRS imitation scams). You should follow the instructions in the IRS letter as soon as possible to prevent further delays with receiving your return.
- Review your tax return and make sure there no obvious mistakes like missing names/SSN or forgetting to sign your tax return. According to the IRS, one of the main things causing people to experience delays in getting their refunds is returns that are not accurately completed. So to ensure you get your refund ensure your return is as accurate as possible. You can resubmit an amended tax return entering the changes and explaining why you need to amend your original tax return. You don’t have to redo your entire return, either. Just show the necessary changes and adjust your tax liability accordingly. You usually do not need to file an amended return because you forgot to include tax forms such as W-2s or 1099 forms. The IRS normally will send a separate request asking for those documents.
- Get online help from various articles on people seeing delays with their refunds. On one of my articles covering the IRS refund schedule I got 6000+ comments, with the following useful real life tips you won’t find elsewhere:
- If you claim certain credits like the Earned Income Credit or Education credits in your tax return, the IRS announced that refunds these returns generate may take longer (under PATH act). So expect your refund to take longer in this case – possibly into April, even if you filed early.
- Hire an accountant or tax services firm to follow up this issue on your behalf particularly if you have a tax obligation to the IRS. But be warned, these are not the cheapest options and if you refund is less than $1,000 it may not be worth the cost.
- Calling the IRS is an option, though getting through to someone is a challenge. You can go the IRS resources page to get the latest contact IRS numbers/locations. Here is a way to get a real IRS person:
- Dial 800-829-1040 – if they say they have high volume calls hang up, you’re wasting your time, call again until it doesn’t say high volume.
- Then dial 1- for English or 2 for Spanish.
- Then listen to the options and dial 2 then 1 then 4, then 2 again, until it finally asks for your social… they will try to trick you after that, but don’t dial anything it will take you to an operator. it’s a process but you’ll get to someone as long as you DO NOT say you have questions about your refund, cause then it will tell you to go online. make sure your cell is charge when you call cause you can wait up till an hour. Good luck people, and hope we all get our refund. Heck, we worked for it!!! =)
- Check with the middleman bank (SBBT, Republic, Bofi, etc) that they received your refund and sent it to your personal account. If filed jointly make sure both names are on your bank account/pre-paid card as this can sometimes cause your refund to be held or rejected.
Tax Payer Identify Verification Delaying IRS Tax Refund Processing and Direct Deposit Payments
In a lot of recent cases, it appears that the IRS is delaying refund processing because they are having to spend a lot more time validating tax payer identities given the rise in online tax related fraud over the last few years. In most cases the IRS will notify selected tax filers via WMR or mail (they will never call you) to contact a IRS number to verify their identity. After verification it could take up to 9 weeks for you to get a refund. See more in this article.
Refund Offset – Why Your Refund May be less than expected
Another area of confusion for those expecting a refund is that when they get a refund it is actually less than the amount they were expecting or provided by their e-filing tool. The reason for this is that the federal government has “offset” or deducted monies from your tax refund to cover debts you owe other federal agencies. Under the law, federal payments such as tax refunds can be collected against by approved agencies (e.g the IRS) before being paid to you. You will get a letter from the IRS explaining this offset to your federal refund and why it differs from what was estimated in your filed return. They will give you an opportunity to dispute this collection, but you will have to prove you had no federal obligations. If you have questions regarding the offset of your refund you can call the Treasury Offset Program (TOP) on 800-304-3107.
When will I get my paper check if my Direct Deposit is delayed or rejected?
At times people will change their bank accounts after their return is filed or provide incorrect account numbers. In these instances the IRS will issue a paper check when they cannot send by direct deposit. This will delay your refund, but the actually IRS processing time for a paper check is only 2 extra days more than direct deposit. Usually paper checks are mailed on Friday’s and you usually get within 1 week; the following Friday or sooner. The US Postal usually don’t deliver refund checks until Saturday morning to prevent someone watching your mail and stealing the check.
If I can order my IRS tax transcript does it mean I am getting my refund direct deposited soon?
This question comes up a lot and I have seen a few comments on this as shown below.
Tracie – If you can get your tax return transcript then you will have your DD within two days I hope this helps someone GOD BLESS AND I HOPE WE ALL GET OURS IN A TIMELY MANNER SINCE THE FIX IN THE SYSTEM
Ashley – Filed and accepted on the 19th. Still can’t order transcripts online or over the phone. No info available in WMR. Says still processing. I seen on another forum that the IRS does bulk approvals on Sundays and Wednesdays, so I’m PRAYING I am part of that chaos so I can get my money this week! Never had to wait this long.
jessew – I have talked to the IRS and they finally moved my bar from 1 bar to 2 approved this morning. Go to the home page and request for a transcript if it goes through they have processed ur taxes that is what the irs lady tolled me. good luck everyone
Estella – I ordered my transcripts yesterday and was able to. If you are able to do so then you’re taxes have approved. Transcript have to be accurate because they are used for loan purposes. I filed on the 23 and was accepted same day. This morning I was approved with a DDD of 02/10.
Yes there is a correlation because to get a transcript the IRS generally has to have processed your tax return (and refund where applicable) and are an official IRS document. But the IRS is very clear that being able to request a transcript does not mean you will imminently be getting a refund and is among the common myths and misconceptions repeated in social media. They still say that checking the WMR tool is the best and official way to check your refund status.
However I have been seeing a lot of comments from people saying that when the WMR site provides limited information on the refund, requesting a free IRS transcript seems to be another way of checking the status of the refund. Generally if you can request a transcript, it means the refund is on the way and the IRS has completed processing of your tax return. But this is all anecdotal evidence.
Tax Topic 151 vs 152 notice
When you log on to the WMR website or IRS2Go mobile app, you may be presented with a message to refer to IRS Tax topic 151 or 152 in relation to your refund. But what do these mean? Tax Topic 151 simply means that you’re getting a tax offset (see above) which may result in your refund being less than you expected. You will get an official IRS letter/report explaining the actual offset and adjustments to your tax return, and details on how to appeal this action – but likely it will delay you getting your refund. While not great news, the silver lining here is that the IRS has processed your return and your adjusted refund (where applicable) should be on its way.
Tax Topic 152 on the other hand means means you’re getting a tax refund in line with IRS processing guidelines (generally within 21 days) and this notice confirm the methods for payment (direct deposit, check).
I know it can be really frustrating to see ongoing delays in getting your tax refund. My answer is be patient, look into the above steps and contact a tax advocate or tax professional if you get nowhere with the IRS.
WMR and IRS2GO Refund Status Error Codes
When you see an error on the WMR and IRS2Go tool you will get an error code and a short description. Sometimes these can tell you the cause (e.g 1161 – Refund delayed, bankruptcy on account ). But in many cases this provides no help and in that case you should reference the IRS Refund Error Code list to get more details. You can also see the comments below for more errors people are facing.