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Don't fall for tax refund myths. Instead, use 'Where's My Refund?' to find your tax cash

Princess Bride impatience via Giphy.comPrincess Bride impatience via Giphy.com

Refunds are the focus (and goal) of millions of Americans every tax-filing season.

They intentionally withhold too much money during the year, creating a forced savings account from which they can withdraw their refund in the next year. Then they file early to get their tax cash back as soon as they can.

But every year, they also fall for some refund myths, misconceptions and just plain wrong information they think will help them get their money sooner. Some of these are relatively benign beliefs, at worst slowing down refunds. Others can be costly.

Here are a couple of wrong ideas about refunds that the IRS says you shouldn't fall for this or any filing season.

Plus, there's more on the best way (Spoiler: it rhymes with Where's My Refund?) to find out where your return and associated refund is in Uncle Sam's tax processing system.

Transcript won't help: Some taxpayers mistakenly believe they can expedite their refund by ordering a tax transcript.

A tax transcript isn't a copy of your prior filings. Rather, it generally summarizes your tax return or other tax-related information. And there actually are five types of transcripts.

Whatever the transcript version, its information about your account does not necessarily reflect the amount or timing of your refund.

Rather, tax transcripts are more appropriately used to validate your past income and tax filing status to help you get a mortgage, student loan or money to help start or run your small business. If you need one for any of these purposes, you can request it online.

Transcripts also can help with the filing of a current return or amending of an older one when you need prior-year tax information but don't have your old 1040 on hand.

Tax impatience doesn't pay: Some taxpayers also believe they can nag their refund into a quicker appearance.

via GIPHY

Sorry. I had to take a break to compose myself. As a wife for a loooong (and mostly happy) time, I know that nagging doesn't usually work on anything.

Being a pest also isn't going to help when it comes to tracking a tax refund.

So if you've been calling your tax preparer repeatedly about your status of your 1040 and associated refund, stop it. Your tax pro doesn't know. Plus, s/he has other clients.

Ditto for laying off calls to the Internal Revenue Service. The agency rep who'll answer your call can track it down, but you're likely going to be on hold for a while — and suffer through the IRS' latest wait time musical tastes — before you get your answer.

Do the tracking yourself: The best way to get your filing and refund status, says the IRS, is to go after the information yourself. Use Where's My Refund?

Where's My Refund? is the IRS' online tracking tool that has the same information that's available to the agency's telephone assistors.

You can find it on IRS.gov if you're at your computer. Where's My Refund? also is accessible via the IRS' mobile app IRS2Go.

Before you logon, here are some tips to make locating your refund more productive.

Check the calendar: The IRS issues most refunds in less than 21 days, although some require additional time.

You should check Where's My Refund? only if it has been:

  • 21 days or more since you e-filed or
  • 6 weeks or more since you mailed your return, or when

OK, you've accepted that there's no immediate turnaround when it comes to filing your taxes and getting your refund. But you still want to know how things are going.

You can start checking Where's My Refund? as soon as 24 hours after the IRS receives your electronically filed tax return or 4 weeks after you’ve mailed a paper tax return.

After those points, the digital tracking tool should be able to tell you a few things.

One is that the IRS has your 1040 and is processing it.

Sometimes, the online tracking tool will let you know the IRS is still reviewing your return instead of processing it. In these cases, Where's My Refund will display instructions or an explanation of what's happening to your filing.

Finally, it eventually will give you the message you want. It'll let you know that the IRS has approved your refund.

Be patient: I know, you filed early. As the IRS recommends, you e-filed and instructed the agency to directly deposit your refund.

So you're thrilled that the IRS' refund approval message means that Uncle Sam's tax collector is preparing to send your refund electronically to your bank. You remaining die-hard paper return filers also are happy, since the return-approved message means that the IRS is about to drop your paper check in the U.S. mail.

In either case, the IRS asks that you be patient.

We all know it can take a while for the U.S. Post Office to deliver snail mail. It could be as long as several weeks before a check shows up in your real-life curbside or apartment lobby box.

Irs tax refund paper check

There's also usually a delay, despite the name, in directly deposited refunds. Bank procedures in handling and crediting electronic transfers vary.

The IRS suggests you wait five days after Where's My Refund? tells you that the electronic refund is on its way before you freak out about it not being in your account.

Don't be an online nag: Remember my earlier don't nag admonition? I'm repeating it, with the IRS' blessing, here.

Pestering an online tax tool isn't any more effective than nagging your tax preparer or IRS employees.

Where's my Refund? doesn't continuously update all the taxpayer information it collects. It only revises filing and refund statuses once a day. That usually happens overnight.

So, as the IRS says, "There's no need to check more often."

I know this might not be exactly what you wanted to hear. I've been married for a loooong (and mostly happy) time to an impatient man.

I've learned from him that some of that have-to-wait frustration can be eased a bit simply by knowing what you can, can't and should do. In the case of your tax refund, that's to not fall for myths and go instead to Where's My Refund?

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