Tax Day has passed, so you should have already filed your 2021 tax return (unless you requested a tax extension). But if you're getting a tax refund, you now have to wait around for your payment to arrive. Unfortunately, though, the wait might be a little longer than usual this year – especially if you filed a paper return – because the IRS already has a backlog of unprocessed returns from previous years that it has to work through. If you really need the money, any delay at all can be extremely frustrating. Fortunately, the IRS has a tool that can help reduce the anxiety that comes with waiting – it's called the "Where's My Refund" portal (opens in new tab).
[As of May 13 (most recent data available), over 95 million tax refunds worth more than $289 billion have been issued in 2022. The average refund so far this year is $3,033, which is a 6.2% increase over the average at the same point last year.]
What the "Where's My Refund" Tool Can Do
The "Where's My Refund" tool will show the status of your tax refund within 24 hours after the IRS receives your e-filed 2021 return, four weeks after a paper return for 2021 is mailed, or three or four days after you e-file a 2019 or 2020 return. In most case, it will tell you that your tax refund has either been:
- Received (the IRS has your tax return and is processing it);
- Approved (the IRS is preparing to send your refund to your bank or directly to you in the mail); or
- Sent (the money is on its way).
In some cases, if the IRS is still reviewing your return, the tool may display instructions or an explanation of what the IRS is doing. Once your refund is processed and approved, the tool will give you an estimated date when you'll get your payment.
If your refund is being deposited into your bank account, wait at least five days after the IRS sends the payment before contacting your bank to check on it. Some banks will credit funds more quickly than others. If you're getting a paper check, it could take a few weeks before you receive it in the mail.
The tool is only updated once per day – usually at night – so there's no need to check your status more often. According to the IRS, don't call them to check on your refund unless it's been at least 21 days since your return was e-filed, it's been at least six weeks since a paper return was mailed, or the "Where's My Refund" tool says the IRS can provide more information. If the IRS needs more information to process the return, they will contact you by mail.
Also, beginning in May 2022, you can check your refund status for any of the three most recent tax years. Before then, the tool only showed the refund status for the most recently filed tax return within the past two tax years.
(Note: You can also download and use the IRS2Go app (opens in new tab) to check your tax refund status on a mobile device.)
Accessing the "Where's My Refund" Tool
To access the "Where's My Refund" tool, you need to enter your Social Security number (or individual taxpayer identification number), the filing status used on your 2021 tax return, and the exact whole dollar refund amount shown on your 2021 return.
If you filed a joint return, you can use either spouse's Social Security number. The filing status options are:
- Married-Filing Joint Return;
- Married-Filing Separate Return;
- Head of Household; and
- Qualifying Widow(er).
When entering the refund amount, make sure you're looking at the correct line on your tax return to find it. If you filed Form 1040, Form 1040-SR, or Form 1040-NR, use the amount on Line 35a. If you filed Form 1040-PR or Form 1040SS, the refund amount is found on Line 14a.
If you file your return before July 1, your tax refund information will be available in the "Where's My Refund" tool until the second or third week in December. If you file your return after July 1 or your refund check is returned to the IRS as undeliverable by the U.S. Postal Service, your refund information will be available through next year until you file a tax return for a more current tax year.
Refunds That Don't Match the Amount Shown on Your Tax Return
All or part of your refund can be diverted ("offset") to pay off past-due federal tax, state income tax, state unemployment compensation debts, child support, spousal support, or other federal nontax debts (e.g., student loans). To find out if this happened to your tax refund, or if you have questions about an offset, contact the agency to which you owe the debt.
The IRS can also adjust your tax refund amount if it makes changes to your tax return. The IRS will send you a notice in the mail explaining the changes. The "Where's My Refund" tool will also note the reasons for a refund offset when it's related to a change made by the IRS to your tax return.
If the tax refund you receive is not from your tax account, don't cash the refund check or spend the direct deposit refund. Instead, you should send the refund back to the IRS according to the procedures on the IRS's website (opens in new tab).
Tracking Refunds from Amended Tax Returns
Refund information for an amended federal income tax return on Form 1040X isn't available on the "Where's My Refund" portal. But there is a resource you can use to track the status of an amended return for the current tax year and up to three prior tax years. Not surprisingly, it's called the "Where's My Amended Return" portal (opens in new tab).
To access the tool, you'll need to provide your Social Security number, date of birth, and zip code. It can take up to 3 weeks after you mailed it for an amended return to show up in the portal. Processing an amended return normally can take up to 16 weeks, but lately it's been taking the IRS more than 20 weeks because of COVID-related processing delays. The "Where's My Amended Return" tool will let you know if your amended return is received, adjusted, or completed.
Rocky is a Senior Tax Editor for Kiplinger with more than 20 years of experience covering federal and state tax developments. Before coming to Kiplinger, he worked for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting and Kleinrock Publishing, where he provided breaking news and guidance for CPAs, tax attorneys, and other tax professionals. He has also been quoted as an expert by USA Today, Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, Reuters, Accounting Today, and other media outlets. Rocky has a law degree from the University of Connecticut and a B.A. in History from Salisbury University.