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Where's your tax refund? Find out with IRS online tracker

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

You're due a tax refund. Plus, your 2020 tax situation means you can claim the rest of the COVID-19 related Recovery Rebate Credit that you didn't automatically get last year.

So, of course, you filed on Feb. 12, as soon as the Internal Revenue Service started accepted returns.

Now you're wondering, why the heck you haven't yet received your refund.

Unusual overload: The bad news is that the IRS is still dealing with backlogs, primarily of mailed correspondence, created when it had to shut down its offices last year as part of coronavirus precautions.

The IRS' mountain of mail, however, didn't deter early filers like you. You and millions of others sent in 2020 tax returns as soon as you could. Those 1040s have been added to the IRS workload.

So have the various business filings that have been coming in to the federal tax offices in the first few months of this year.

Then, just as the IRS was about to start processing returns, Mother Nature whacked not just millions of us Texas residents, but also the tax agency's Austin service center. The disastrous deep freeze and utility problems it created meant another closure of that facility. And that means more delays.

And, of course, there's the third coronavirus rebate authorized on March 11 by the enactment of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The IRS started sending out those economic impact payments economic impact payments the next day.

All this adds up to almost 7.6 million. That's the difference — specifically 7,575,000 — between the number of 2020 returns the IRS had received as of March 12 and the number of those returns it had processed by then. That's a drop in processing of more than 20 percent from the same time frame last year.

IRS problems are our problems: I hear you. That tax confluence of, in many cases, just plain old bad luck is the IRS' problem.

True. But the reality is that when the IRS has issues, they become taxpayers' troubles, too.

The IRS has held up 21 days as its target to get refunds to most taxpayers if they file their returns electronically. That's still the goal, but it is getting harder to meet.

"While the IRS issues most tax refunds within 21 days of the filing season start, it's possible some refunds may take longer," IRS spokesman Robert Marvin recently told The Washington Post. "Many factors can affect the timing of your refund after we receive your return. Some tax returns take longer to process than others. For example, returns with an error, incomplete information or those affected by theft or fraud may take longer to process."

Online answers, maybe: So what's an anxious and financially-strapped taxpayer to do, aside from wait for his or her refund to show up?

You can check the status at the IRS' Where's My Refund? online search tool.

Note, though, that the IRS is upfront about its current processing problems. The refunds page prominently features a notice about processing delays:

IRS refund processing delay notice

Noted. Now to finding our exactly where your refund is in the IRS processing maze.

You can use Where's My Refund? within 24 hours after the IRS gets your e-filed return or four weeks after you mail a paper return.

The status tracker displays your refund progress through three stages:

  1. Return Received,
  2. Refund Approved and
  3. Refund Sent.

This filing season is one of those rare ones for the hubby and me. We are getting a refund. And I am pleased to say that my check of Where's My Refund? earlier today shows that while our tax cash back is not exactly on its way yet, it's in phase two of the process. So progress.

My-2020-refund-status

Info required for refund status: To get what I hope is similar good refund news for you, you'll need three pieces of info to get the tracking process started.

  1. Your Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). If you're married and filed a joint return, either spouse's Social Security number can be entered.
  2. Your filing status.
  3. Your exact refund amount as show on your 1040.

This will let you find the status of the individual tax return you filed for a refund earlier this year.

It will not, however, give you the status of an amended tax return and any associated refund from that re-filing. You have to use another online IRS tool to track a Form 1040-X. But that's another post; actually, this one.

Now back to this year's original 2020 tax return and yet-to-arrive refund.

Don't perpetually check: the IRS updates Where's My Refund? information daily, usually overnight. So you only need to check it once a day.

And although the tracking tool is available most of the time, if you tend to keep unconventional hours (like me, a dedicated night owl), you could run into accessibility problems.

The IRS says that the refund tracking system is not available every Monday from 12:00 a.m. (i.e., midnight) to 3 a.m. Eastern Time. And occasionally, the system may be unavailable on Sundays between 1 a.m. and 7 a.m. Eastern Time.

Those same time limits apply to accessing Where's My Refund? via the IRS2Go mobile app.

Getting off-line assistance: For most folks, Where's My Refund? answers that question. It's not always the answer you want, but it's an answer.

If, however, the electronic checking can't help you find out where your tax cash is, you might need to turn to the IRS for in-person help.

This step should be taken if it's been more than 21 days since you e-filed your return. You'll also want to contact the IRS when the refund tracking tool comes out and tells you to contact the IRS.

Finally, here's one additional refund tracking tip. Don't mess with getting one next year.

If you adjust your withholding, the earlier in the tax year the better, you'll end up more closely paying just the amount of tax you owe. Not too little or too much. The IRS' Tax Withholding Estimator to can help you get your withholding right.

And that means you'll have this cash in hand throughout the tax year and won't have to wait for Uncle Sam to send it back to you next spring.

You also might find these refund-related posts of interest:

 

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