Over 145 million tax returns were received by the Internal Revenue Service in 2017. More than 108 million refunds were issued, with the average refund totaling $2,782.
That’s a decent amount of money that you could use to pay down debt, build your emergency fund, pay for a major home renovation or cover other expenses. But, one of the most frustrating parts about filing your tax return is waiting for your refund to make its way to your bank account.
According to the IRS, e-filing is the fastest way to receive your refund. When filing electronically, it’s possible to have your refund deposited directly to your bank account in three weeks or less. For paper returns, the process can take six to eight weeks.
The good news is that you don’t have to be left in the dark about the status of your refund after you file your taxes. The IRS has a great tool on their website that allows you to instantly check on your refund status. And if you’re waiting on a refund but it doesn’t arrive in the time frame you’re expecting it, the IRS also has a procedure for tracing missing refunds.
Read on to learn about both situations and the steps you should take to track down your refund.
“Where’s My Refund?” Online Tool
The “Where’s My Refund?” online tool has been in operation since 2007. It’s easy to use and accurate to the day since the IRS updates it every 24 hours (usually overnight).
To check the status of your refund, simply go to Where’s My Refund?. You’ll need three pieces of information to look up your refund. Here’s what you need to have handy:
- Your Social Security number or Employer Identification Number as used on the return
- Filing status (i.e., single, head of household, married filing jointly, married filing separately)
- The exact refund amount as filed on the return
When you plug this information in, you’ll be redirected to a Refund Status Results screen. This screen shows you where your refund is in relation to three stages:
- Return Received
- Refund Approved
- Refund Sent
If your refund has been approved, you should also be able to see an estimated date for when it will be deposited into your bank account. There should also be a separate date for when you should contact your bank if your refund has not been received.
You can access the Where’s My Refund tool from your laptop. If you prefer to check your refund status from your mobile device, you can also track you refund using IRS2Go. This app is available as a free download on iTunes, Google Play and Amazon. You can use the app to:
- Check your refund status
- Make a payment if you owe taxes
- Get free tax help
- Retrieve security codes for certain online IRS services
According to the IRS, you can check on the status of your refund must faster if you filed electronically: information may be available 24 hours after the IRS receives your tax return electronically. If you filed a paper return, the IRS advises that you check four weeks after mailing the return.
One important thing to remember is that the site is only updated once per day. Checking the status of your refund multiple times throughout the day won’t result in it being processed any faster.
Tracing a Refund Check That Has Gone Missing
The easiest and one of the best ways for you to receive your tax refund is through direct deposit (electronic transfer of funds directly into your bank account). This also is the safest method, since you don’t need to worry about a paper check getting lost in the mail, misplaced once you have it in hand, or stolen.
However, the IRS doesn’t allow more than three direct deposits into the same bank account per tax year, so you may have no choice but to get a paper check. In addition, you may have other reasons for wanting a paper check. If your paper check goes missing, you can ask the IRS to trace it by calling (800) 829-1954, or by filling out Form 3911 (note that those who filed as married filing jointly need to start with the form).
The IRS will determine if the check was cashed. If it wasn’t, then the agency will issue a replacement check. If it was cashed, then the agency will create a claims package that includes a copy of the endorsed, cashed check. Following a review of the information (including the signature on the back of the cashed check), the agency will decide whether or not to issue a replacement check. Expect this process, which is run through the U.S. Bureau of the Fiscal Service, to take about six weeks.
If you’re waiting on a direct deposit refund and the anticipated deposit date has passed, check with your bank to see if the refund has been received. If you’ve incorrectly entered your bank account number or routing information when filing, that could cause your refund to go astray. If the refund hasn’t posted to the IRS system, you can request that the direct deposit be stopped.
Be aware, however, that the IRS can’t compel a bank to redirect refunds that were deposited to the wrong account in error. If that occurs, you may have to pursue the matter civilly with the bank and/or the owner of the account that received the refund to recover the money.
What If You Filed an Amended Return?
Sometimes, you may have to amend your tax return. For example, you may have overlooked a key income statement or forgotten to claim a valuable deduction. In those instances, amending your return may be necessary to calculate the correct amount of taxes owed or the refund due to you.
If you filed an amended return, you can track its status through the IRS website. To do that, you’ll just need to plug in your Social Security number, date of birth and zip code. An amended return can take up to three weeks to show up in the IRS system after you send it, and another 16 weeks to process it. So, you may need to be patient as you wait out the arrival of your refund.