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Are you still waiting on your tax refund? Although most people will receive their tax refund within 21 days of filing electronically, the IRS warns of possible delays due to lingering backlogs caused by the pandemic.
So far, the IRS has issued more than 45 million tax refunds in 2022, at an average of $3,352 per refund—up from last year's $2,800 average check. Waiting for that money to land in your bank account can be a challenge, especially if you're counting on it to make a large purchase, cover expenses or give your financial health a boost.
Here's what could be causing delays in processing your 2021 tax return, how to receive your refund faster and what to do while you wait for your tax refund.
How to Check the Status of Your Tax Refund
You can check the status of your refund using the IRS' Where's My Refund? tool.
According to the IRS, the Where's My Refund? tool is the fastest and easiest way to check your refund status. It shows your return's status within 24 hours of e-filing or four weeks of mailing your return. The tool is updated daily to reflect your current return status.
Here's how to use the tool to check your tax return status:
- Access the tool through the IRS' website or through the mobile IRS2Go app.
- Provide required information. You will need to enter your Social Security number, filing status and your exact tax return amount.
- View your return status. The tool will display a personalized date for when you can expect to receive your refund, if your return has already been processed and approved.
Your status will indicate one of the following:
- Received means your return is being processed.
- Approved indicates your return has been accepted and your refund amount is approved.
- Sent confirms that your refund is being direct-deposited into your bank account or mailed to you as a check.
Can You Call the IRS to Check Your Refund Status?
In some cases, you can call the IRS to check the status of your tax return.
Individual taxpayers can call the IRS at 800-829-1040 if:
- It's been 21 days or more since you e-filed your return
- It's been six weeks since you mailed a paper tax return
- Where's My Refund? tells you to contact the IRS
Calling outside of these conditions isn't recommended because the IRS representatives won't be able to provide additional information on your tax return status. Because of the high volume of calls, the phone line is often busy and it may take you a long time to get through.
Reasons Your Tax Refund Can Be Delayed
If you're still waiting on your tax refund, it's possible that your tax return is taking longer for the IRS to process because it requires additional review.
There are several reasons why your tax return may be delayed:
- Errors such as an incomplete filing status
- Missing information
- A need for additional review
- Possible identity theft or tax fraud
- A claim for an earned income tax credit or an additional child tax credit
- Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation, which can take up to 14 weeks to process
How to Get Your Tax Refund Faster
If you've already filed your tax return, you won't be able to speed up the refund process by checking your refund status or calling the IRS. The IRS will contact you if they need additional information to process your return.
If you haven't filed yet, the IRS offers the following tips to speed up your refund:
1. Use E-filing
File your taxes electronically for the quickest tax refund. With paper returns, IRS workers have to manually input information, so filing by paper can cause substantial delays in processing your return.
2. Choose Direct Deposit
The fastest way to receive your tax refund is to elect to have it deposited directly into your bank account. If you don't have a bank account and don't wish to open one, you can also use direct deposit with a prepaid debit card.
3. Avoid Errors
Incorrect, missing or incomplete information on your tax return can trigger a manual review and lead to processing delays, thus slowing your tax refund.
The IRS urges taxpayers to gather all relevant tax documents and take these steps to avoid the most common return errors:
- Use the correct filing status. Accurately mark your status as single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household or qualified widow/widower.
- Report all taxable income. Be sure to have all your income documents (such as W2s) on hand before you file your return. Underreporting your taxable income can lead to penalties and interest, and the processing delays will mean delays in receiving your tax refund. Don't forget to include capital gains.
- Include unemployment compensation. Excluding unemployment compensation can lead to an audit. A special 2020 provision allowed taxpayers to exclude unemployment compensation from their taxes; however, this provision does not apply to 2021 taxes.
- Double-check your entries for errors. Look for typos in your name, date of birth, Social Security number, and routing and account numbers.
- Answer the virtual currency question. The IRS requires you to report cryptocurrency transactions. Indicate whether you've received, sold, exchanged or disposed of any cryptocurrency in 2021. Leaving this question blank is an error, so mark yes or no.
- Sign and date your tax return. If you don't, your return could be marked incomplete and trigger a lengthier manual review process.
How to Pay Bills While You Wait for Your Tax Refund
Because tax refunds can be delayed for a number of reasons, the IRS cautions taxpayers not to rely on receiving their tax refund within three weeks in order to cover expenses or make an important purchase.
Here are some ideas for getting by while you wait for your refund check.
- Make a hardship request to the IRS. If your refund is being held up by a temporary backlog in processing, you can ask the IRS to expedite all or part of your refund to cover hardship expenses by calling 800-829-1040 and explaining your situation. This is for serious hardships only; examples include eviction notices, utility shut-offs and inability to pay for medication. You can only request enough money to cover your emergency hardship, and receiving this partial payment may delay the remainder of your payment.
- Put your budget into survival mode. Create a bare-bones budget to cover expenses until you receive your tax refund. Bare-bones budgets are designed to help you make it through a financial emergency. You'll need to cut discretionary spending and postpone major purchases while still making your minimum credit card payments and paying bills and basic expenses.
- Seek additional income. Explore options for making money fast, like freelancing, doing gig work, selling things you don't need or finding a part-time job.
- Consider financial assistance. Seeking financial assistance through private charity and government relief programs can help get you back on track.
- Take advantage of 0% intro APR credit card offers. If you have good credit and are confident you'll manage a new account responsibly, you may be able to find a 0% intro APR credit card offer to use on purchases while waiting for your refund. You can use it to save on interest while you're waiting for your refund—just be sure to pay off the balance before the 0% intro APR period ends, or you'll be charged interest at the card's standard rate.
- Get a personal loan. Although it's wise to resist running up debt while you're waiting for critical funds, a personal loan could help you get your money now and pay it back when you get your refund. Lenders that fund their loans quickly may be able to provide the emergency cash you need. To get the right loan for you:
- Leverage your good credit score to get the lowest possible APR.
- Try to keep your loan to the amount of your refund minus interest, so when your refund arrives, you can pay the whole loan off. Make sure your loan doesn't have any prepayment penalties first.
- Avoid payday loans, title loans and other high-interest sources of fast cash. Sky-high interest could leave you owing far more than your refund amount.
- Adjust your 2022 withholding or estimated taxes. Receiving a tax refund means you've overpaid your taxes. If the same thing is likely to happen for the 2022 tax year, you may be able to reduce your withholding or estimated tax payments. You won't receive a lump sum of cash next year at tax time, but you might increase your take-home pay. Try using the IRS Tax Withholding Estimator or check with your tax preparer before making any adjustments. If you're self-employed, try refiguring what you pay in quarterly taxes.
Waiting Is the Hardest Part
Tracking the progress of your tax return and refund won't make the money arrive any faster. But you may be able to allay some of your fears about refund delays by using Where's My Refund or IRS2Go to see exactly where you are in the process.