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Topic 152 - Refund Information

Refund Timing

The IRS issues more than 9 out of 10 refunds in the normal time frame: less than 21 days. However, incomplete or inaccurate tax returns may require further review and could take longer than the normal processing time.

Additionally, beginning in 2017, a new law requires the IRS to hold refunds related to tax returns claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) until mid-February. Under the change required by the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act, the IRS must hold the entire refund — even the portion not associated with the EITC and ACTC — until February 15. The IRS will begin to release EITC/ACTC refunds starting February 15. However, the IRS cautions taxpayers that these refunds likely won't arrive in bank accounts or on debit cards until the week of February 27 (assuming there are no processing issues with the tax return and the taxpayer chose direct deposit). Read more about refund timing for early EITC/ACTC filers.

IRS representatives can research the status of your return only if:

  • It's been more than 21 days since you received your e-file acceptance notification,
  • It's been more than 6 weeks since you mailed your paper return, or
  • The Where's My Refund? tool directs you to contact us.

If your tax return includes EITC or ACTC, you should only call if the Where's My Refund? tool directs you to contact us.

Processing times may take longer under the following circumstances:

  • If you claim the EITC or ACTC, the IRS cannot issue refunds before February 15 due to changes in the law.
  • Refunds from amended returns are generally issued within 16 weeks.
  • If you filed an injured spouse claim, refer to Topic 203 for more information.
  • For refund claims with an application for an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) attached, refer to Topic 857 for more information.
  • If you requested a refund of tax withheld on a Form 1042-S (PDF) by filing a Form 1040NR (PDF), allow up to 6 months from the original due date of the 1040NR return or the date you actually filed the 1040NR, whichever is later, to receive any refund due.

You can also refer to Topic 303 for a checklist of common errors made when preparing your tax return and for additional items that may delay the processing of your return.

Refund Type

Join the eight in 10 taxpayers who get their refunds faster by using e-file and direct deposit. You have several options for receiving your federal individual income tax refund:

  • Direct Deposit: The fastest way is by direct deposit into your checking or savings account, including an individual retirement arrangement (IRA). See the Form 1040 General Instructions for more information.
  • Treasury Direct®: Deposit into a TreasuryDirect® online account to buy U.S. Treasury marketable securities and savings bonds. For more information, see Using Your Tax Refund for Treasury Direct;
  • Traditional, Roth, or SEP-IRA: Directly deposit part or all of your refund into a traditional IRA, Roth IRA (including a United States Treasury myRA® retirement account; visit myRA.gov for more information), or SEP-IRA, but not a SIMPLE IRA. You must have an existing myRA or other IRA account before you file your return, and your routing number and account number. See the Form 1040 General Instructions for more information. For more information on IRA contributions, see Publication 590-A (PDF), Contributions to Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs).
  • Savings Bonds: By purchase of U.S. Series I Savings Bonds up to $5,000; or
  • Paper Check: By paper check sent to the address listed on your return.

Splitting Your Refund

If you choose to receive your refund by direct deposit, you can split your refund into as many as three separate accounts. For example, you can request that we directly deposit into a checking, a savings, and a retirement account by completing Form 8888 (PDF), Allocation of Refund (Including Savings Bond Purchases) and attaching it to your income tax return. You can also use Form 8888 to buy up to $5000 in paper series I savings bonds. You can't have your refund deposited into more than one account or buy paper series I savings bonds if you file Form 8379 (PDF), Injured Spouse Allocation. As a reminder, your refund should only be directly deposited into accounts that are in your own name, your spouse's name, or both if it's a joint account. Please note, to receive your refund by direct deposit (whether into one account or more), the total refund amount must be $1.00 or more.

Direct Deposit Limits

In an effort to combat fraud and identity theft, the IRS limits the number of direct deposits into a single financial account or prepaid debit card to three refunds per year. Taxpayers who exceed this limit will receive a notice and a refund check instead, but may take up to 10 weeks.

Online or Mobile Device

Where's My Refund? has the most up to date information available about your refund. Use it to get your personalized refund status. The tool is updated once a day so you don't need to check more often. You can also download our free mobile app, IRS2Go, from an iPhone or Android device. Both are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Telephone Access

If you don't have Internet access, you may call the refund hotline at 800-829-1954.

Checking Your Refund Status

You can start checking on the status of your return within 24 hours after we've received your e-filed return or 4 weeks after you've mailed a paper return. Have your 2016 tax return handy so you can provide your social security number, your filing status, and the exact whole dollar amount of your refund shown on your return.

Where's My Refund? will be updated with projected deposit dates for early EITC/ACTC refund filers a few days after February 15. Taxpayers will not see a refund date on Where's My Refund? ‎or through their software packages until then. The IRS, tax preparers, and tax software will not have additional information on refund dates, so Where's My Refund? remains the best way to check the status of a refund.

General Information

Where's My Refund? shows information for the most recent tax year filed in the current year.

For U.S. individual income tax returns filed on or after July 1:

Refund information will remain available throughout the following year until you file a tax return for a more current tax year.

The Where's My Refund? tool includes a tracker that displays progress through 3 stages: (1) Return Received, (2) Refund Approved, and (3) Refund Sent. Where's My Refund? provides an actual personalized refund date as soon as the IRS processes your tax return and approves your refund. It doesn't show information about amended returns. To check the status of an amended return, use Where's My Amended Return?

Where's My Refund? has the most accurate and complete information available. IRS representatives don't have information beyond what's shown on Where's My Refund? so you don't need to call the IRS unless the tool tells you to call. Updates to refund status are made no more than once a day - usually at night.

Not Entitled to Refund Received

If you receive a refund to which you're not entitled, or for an amount that's more than you expected, don't cash the check until you receive a notice that explains the difference; then follow the instructions on the notice. For information about returning an erroneous refund, see Topic 161.

Refund Less than Expected

If you receive a refund for a smaller amount than you expected, you may cash the check. If it's determined that you should have received more, you will later receive a check for the difference. You'll also get a notice explaining the difference. Follow the instructions on the notice.

Missing Refund Check

In the event that your refund check is lost, stolen or destroyed, the IRS will help you obtain a replacement check. See I lost my refund check. How do I get a new one?

Additional Information

For more information about refunds, see Tax Season Refund Frequently Asked Questions.

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Page Last Reviewed or Updated: December 30, 2016