But some taxpayers are still waiting for their refund – a major influx of money to households that many Americans depend on – as the IRS works through a massive backlog of unprocessed tax returns from previous years.
With about three weeks left in the tax-filing season, which began Jan. 24 and ends on April 18, here's what you need to know about why your return may have been delayed – and what to do if it is.
Why could tax refunds be delayed?
There are a number of reasons that your refund could be delayed. Math errors or typos are a common culprit.
If you filed a paper return, it could be stuck in a processing queue as the IRS works through a backlog of 7 million unprocessed individual returns.
"It’s taking us longer than normal to process mailed correspondence and more than 21 days to issue refunds for certain mailed and e-filed 2020 tax returns that require review," the IRS said recently.
The tax-collecting agency has also identified other frequent mistakes, such as: choosing the wrong filing status, not answering a question on trading virtual currency, forgetting to report all types of taxable income including unemployment benefits, making small typos in the name, birth date and Social Security entries, or mailing the return to the wrong address.
There are additional challenges this year for filers that are related to the COVID-19 stimulus payments and the expanded child tax credit. Although filers do not owe money on the stimulus payments, they still need to correctly enter the amount they received on their returns – which needs to match IRS records.
There are "far more than 10 million" Americans who have failed to reconcile the two stimulus payments they were sent in 2020, IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said recently while testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee.
The IRS has similar requirements for the child tax credit: Because at least half of the enhanced credit will be paid out as a lump sum when parents receive their 2021 tax return, recipients are required to accurately reconcile the credit they already received when filing their taxes this year. The information is pertinent to determining how much more money families receive from the credit when they fill out Schedule 8812 and Form 1040.
How long will refunds be delayed?
The IRS has not provided a specific timeline for how long refunds could be delayed. However, it has said that refunds for certain mailed returns and electronically filed returns that require review could take "more than 21 days."
How do I check the status of my refund?
If you file electronically – as most taxpayers do – you can start tracking the status of your tax refund within 24 hours of filing using the IRS' Where’s My Refund tool.
However, for taxpayers who choose to file their returns via mail, there could be as long as a four-week wait to retrieve your payment status on the site.
I filed an amended return for a past year and expect money back. What should I do?
The IRS has said that it is taking up to a month longer to process amended returns for the 2020 tax year.
"It's taking us more than 20 weeks (instead of up to 16 weeks) to process amended returns," the agency said. "Do not file a second tax return or call the IRS," the agency said.
Individuals who filed an amended return should be able to check its status online about three weeks after the return was sent to the IRS. However, it can take up to 20 weeks or five months for the return to be processed.
Should I contact the IRS?
With extremely long wait times, your chances of actually getting in touch with an IRS agent are slim. Last year, the agency only answered one in nine phone calls, with an average hold time of 23 minutes, according to the National Taxpayer Advocate.
Even if you do reach an agent, the IRS says they will be unable to help you unless the "Where's My Refund" tool instructed you to call the agency.
Here's when the IRS says you should call:
- It has been longer than 21 days since the return was filed electronically
- It has been six weeks or longer since the return was mailed
- If the "Where's My Refund?" tool instructs you to contact the IRS