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Tax Refunds in 2018: What to Expect

FS-2018-3, February 2018

The IRS issues more than nine out of 10 refunds in less than 21 days. However, some tax returns may require additional review, which affects refund timing.

The "Where’s My Refund?" tool has the most up-to-date information about the status of a taxpayer’s refund. It’s available on IRS.gov and through the IRS mobile app, IRS2Go.

E-filers can use “Where’s My Refund?” to check the status of a return within 24 hours after the IRS received their return. Paper filers can check four weeks after they mail a paper return. “Where’s My Refund?” updates once daily, usually overnight. Checking it more often will not produce new or different results.

Some believe ordering a transcript is a good way to check the status of their refund. The information included on a transcript does not necessarily reflect the amount or timing of a refund. Transcripts are best used to validate past income and tax filing status for mortgage, student and small business loan applications, and to help with tax preparation.

“Where’s My Refund?” is the best way to check the status of a refund and displays progress through three stages: (1) Return Received, (2) Refund Approved, and (3) Refund Sent. Taxpayers get personalized information based on the processing of their tax return. The tool provides an actual refund date after the IRS has approved a refund.

Several factors can affect when the IRS is able to issue a refund or when a taxpayer may receive it.

General Errors or Processing Issues

Taxpayers whose refunds take longer may have filed a return that includes errors, is incomplete or needs further review in general. The IRS will contact taxpayers by mail if it needs more information to process a return.

Claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit or Additional Child Tax Credit

By law, the IRS cannot issue refunds before mid-February for tax returns that claim the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit. The IRS expects the earliest EITC/ACTC related refunds to be in taxpayers’ bank accounts or debit cards starting Feb. 27, 2018, if these taxpayers chose direct deposit and there are no other issues with their tax return. The law requires the IRS to hold the entire refund — even the portion not associated with the EITC or ACTC.

The IRS began updating "Where's My Refund?" ‎on IRS.gov and the IRS2Go mobile app on Feb. 17, 2018, for most early filers who claimed the EITC or ACTC. The IRS, tax preparers and tax software will not have additional information on refund dates. “Where’s My Refund?” is the best way to check the status of a refund.

Identity Theft or Fraud

Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses a stolen Social Security number to file a tax return and claim a fraudulent refund. A taxpayer may not know this has happened until they file a tax return and find out someone else used their SSN. Or, the IRS may send a letter to a taxpayer saying someone filed a suspicious return using their SSN.

Direct Deposit Speeds Refunds, but Allow Time for Banks, Weekends, Holidays 

Using Direct Deposit is the safest and easiest way to get a refund. Direct Deposit is the electronic transfer of a refund from the Department of Treasury to the financial account of choice. Eight out of 10 taxpayers use direct deposit for their refunds. This is the same method used by 98 percent of Social Security and Veterans Affairs beneficiaries. It is easy, safe and secure. It also saves money for all taxpayers. It costs more than $1 to print and mail a refund check and about a dime for direct deposit. All that is needed is an account number and a routing number to get a refund faster.

Splitting a refund is easy and can be done electronically if using IRS Free File or other tax preparation software. When filing a paper return, use IRS’ Form 8888, Allocation of Refund (Including Savings Bond Purchases), to split the refund among two or three different accounts. Form 8888 is not required for the IRS to direct deposit the refund into a single account; use the direct deposit line on Forms 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ.

With split refunds, taxpayers have a convenient option for managing money — sending some of the refund to an account for immediate use and some for future savings — teamed with the speed and safety of direct deposit.

A tax preparer can elect direct deposit for a taxpayer as well. Even those taxpayers who still file on paper can choose direct deposit. See the “Refund” section near the bottom of the return. 

Direct deposit refunds are faster than mailed refunds. However, taxpayers should allow a bit of processing time after the refund leaves the IRS. Financial institutions need to accept the refunds, then deposit them into bank accounts or onto debit cards. Many financial institutions do not process payments on weekends or holidays. For EITC and ACTC filers, the three-day holiday weekend for Presidents Day affects their refund timing.

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