When Can I Expect to Receive My Tax Refund?  

When Can I Expect to Receive My Tax Refund?  

Tax season is upon us, and you're probably excited to get your refund once you've filed your tax return. As for when you can expect to receive your refund, that depends on a couple factors. Most people will receive their tax refunds in about three weeks (21 business days) after filing their tax returns and opting for direct deposit instead of a paper check.

However, there are reasons that your tax refund may be delayed. While some of these causes for delay have always present in the system, new IRS protocols were introduced for the 2016 filing season that can cause a significant holdup in when you can reasonably expect to see your money.

If the following situations do not apply to you and your refund still hasn't arrived, you can check its status with the IRS's Where's My Refund tool and the IRS2Go mobile app.

Certain Tax Benefits Causing Mandatory Delays

Starting in 2017, the IRS will hold all refunds for taxpayers who are claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) or both tax credits until February 15. Because of the large refunds that these credits tend to generate and problems with unscrupulous tax preparers promising larger refunds through EITC fraud, the hold provides additional time for verification of your income and dependent information.

EITC is available to taxpayers with a low to moderate income plus eligible dependents, and if you are 25 to 65 years old with no dependent children. You can use the IRS's EITC Assistant to determine if you are eligible for this credit.

ACTC is available to taxpayers who have three or more dependent children, as well as taxpayers who need to claim ACTC in order to receive the refundable portion of the basic Child Tax Credit (CTC), which is available for eligible dependent children who are under 17 years old. CTC is nonrefundable, but depending on your tax liability and other benefits you are eligible for, you may also be eligible for a refundable portion of CTC.

If you claim one or both of these tax benefits, the earliest possible date you are likely to receive your federal tax refund is around February 27 if you file early. Tax season officially begins on January 23 when the IRS begins accepting tax returns, so you need not wait until February 15 to file, but you will not receive your refund immediately. However, state and local tax refunds will not be affected by federal holds, so if you are expecting a sizeable refund from your state that will arrive sooner, you should still file early if you can. You won't have to wait until February 15 to receive your state tax refund.

If you are ineligible for EITC and ACTC, then your federal tax refund wait time should be unaffected.

Common Systemic Delays

  • Filing on paper.A majority of taxpayers file electronically whether they do it by themselves, with a tax professional or with a volunteer income tax clinic. If you complete your tax return on paper and mail it in, it takes a minimum of six weeks (42 business days) for your refund to arrive. There are some situations that require filing a paper return, such as certain pensions and military tax breaks, making this delay unavoidable.

  • Incorrect bank information.Always double-check your bank information when e-filing your tax return. It can end up going to someone else's bank account or one that doesn't exist.

  • Identity theft.If you are a victim of identity theft, processing your tax returns and any refunds due will result in significant delays.

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