How Do I Get My Tax Refund?

By Dan Caplinger Markets Fool.com

If you're like many taxpayers, the burning question on your mind is how you can get your tax refund as quickly as possible. The fastest way to get your refund coming to you is by filing electronically and arranging for direct deposit of what the IRS owes you. If you've done that and still haven't gotten what you expected, you can check your refund status using several tools from the IRS, including the IRS Refund Hotline and the Where's My Refund online website. Meanwhile, if you haven't yet filed, you can get a good sense of what your refund will be before you file so that you can take the necessary steps to get your refund moving.

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How much will your refund be?

You won't know exactly how much the IRS owes you until you complete your return. However, you can get a good estimate of how big your tax refund should be by using simple tax calculators like the one below:

* Calculator is for estimation purposes only, and is not financial planning or advice. As with any tool, it is only as accurate as the assumptions it makes and the data it has, and should not be relied on as a substitute for a financial advisor or a tax professional.

To use this calculator, you'll need your W-2 forms to know your total annual income and amount of tax withheld from your paychecks during the year. With additional basic information like the size of your family and how much in itemized deductions you qualify to receive, you'll get a solid ballpark estimate of what you'll have coming back to you from the IRS.

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When will you get your refund back?

It's hard to be patient when the IRS owes you money. The tax agency has a good record of getting refunds back to taxpayers quickly, claiming roughly 90% success in doing so within 21 days. In order to make it as easy as possible for the IRS to get your return processed quickly, the best thing to do is to file your return electronically and then request that your refund be sent directly to your bank account through direct deposit. That way, there will be no chance of a mail-related delay, and the greater efficiencies involved with electronic filing will work in your favor.

Image source: Getty Images.

If you choose not to file electronically, the additional time to get your refund can be considerable. The IRS suggests that it can take an additional four weeks all told for paper returns to work their way through the system. That can hold your refund back a lot longer than you'd like.

How to find out where your refund is

After you've filed your return, there are a few ways you can check on its status. The online IRS tool is called Where's My Refund, and it will give you basic information about when to expect your refund. You can use the tool as soon as 24 hours after filing electronically. However, if you file a paper return, the Where's My Refund site isn't available for four weeks.

The other option is to use the IRS Refund Hotline, which is available by telephone toll-free at 1-800-829-1954. In order to use the telephone system, you'll need to have your Social Security number, along with your filing status and the exact dollar amount of the refund that you claimed when you filed your tax return.

How to deal with refund problems

The benefit of using the IRS tools to check on your refund is that they can anticipate and help you deal with possible problems. For example, if you don't receive your refund on schedule even though the Where's My Refund tool says that you should have gotten it, then the IRS can help you be able to start a refund trace. That should help you get to the bottom of any issues that may have come up, such as a mismatch on the banking information you provided through direct deposit or an address problem that could have led to your refund getting lost in the mail.

Get your hard-earned money back

Waiting for a tax refund can be tough, especially when you're counting on getting that money as soon as possible. By using the tools at your disposal, you can track your refund until it hits your bank account and make sure that no unexpected problems arise.

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