The day you get your federal tax refund feels like Christmas morning. But unlike Christmas, tax refund day is hard to mark on your calendar. Once you send your tax return to the IRS, you never know exactly how long it will take for your refund to arrive.
The good news is you probably don’t have that long to wait.
The IRS says that in typical years, it issues more than 90% of refunds within 21 calendar days of processing an income tax return. However, that three-week timeline isn’t guaranteed. Several factors, including how you file your taxes, can affect the timing of your tax refund.
How Long Does It Take to Get My IRS Tax Refund?
Decades ago, there was only one way to file a tax return. Either you or your tax preparer would have to fill out all the tax forms by hand and mail them to the IRS. After that, you often waited months for your refund check to arrive in the mail.
Today, you have far more options. You can still file taxes the old-fashioned way. But you can also e-file them with the help of tax software from a company like H&R Block or with the IRS’s Free File Fillable Forms.
You also have more choices about receiving your tax refund. You can request a paper check or direct deposit into your bank account or to a reloadable prepaid debit card. And you can spend up to $5,000 of it on Series I savings bonds. All these choices affect the timing of your refund.
Federal Tax Refund Timetable
You can expect your refund fastest if you use e-file and direct deposit. Most taxpayers use this method, and they typically receive their refunds in one to three weeks.
If you file by mail but still use direct deposit, that adds a little time to the process. You still get your refund within one to three weeks after the IRS receives your tax return. However, depending on the mail, it could take a week or more for the return to reach the agency.
If you request a paper check, that slows your refund still more. The IRS typically takes around a week longer to mail refund checks than it does to send direct deposits. On top of that, you must allow time for the check to reach you by mail. All in all, it can take several weeks.
If you use all or part of your return to buy Series I bonds, those take even longer to arrive. Once the IRS finishes processing your return, it places the order for the bonds. The paper certificates take up to three weeks to arrive in the mail. If you have part of your tax refund direct-deposited, you’ll most likely receive that portion before your bond certificates arrive.
2022 IRS Refund Schedule
Up until 2013, the IRS sent refunds only once a week. It published an official tax refund schedule to let people know when they could expect their refund based on the week they send in the return. But now, tax refunds go out every business day.
Because of this and other changes, the IRS no longer publishes a tax refund schedule. But you can still estimate the timing based on how long it’s taken the IRS to send refunds in previous tax seasons.
This table for 2022 shows approximately when the IRS will send your tax refund based on the date the IRS accepted your return. Note that this is not the same as the day you sent it. If you e-file your taxes, the IRS notifies you when it accepts your return.
But if you file by mail, you can’t be sure when that happens. The best you can do is estimate. If you send your tax return by certified mail, you can track the delivery to see when it reaches the IRS. Tack on a couple of days after that for the IRS to accept the return.
Also, the chart shows the day the IRS mails refund checks — not the day they arrive. Depending on the mail service in your area, you might have to wait up to a week for the check to reach you.
|IRS Accepts Tax Return||IRS Sends Direct Deposit||IRS Mails Refund Check|
|Jan. 24||Feb. 7 to Feb. 18||Feb. 14 to Feb. 25|
|Jan. 31||Feb. 7 to Feb. 25||Feb. 14 to March 4|
|Feb. 7||Feb. 14 to March 4||Feb. 21 to March 11|
|Feb. 14||Feb. 21 to March 11||Feb. 28 to March 18|
|Feb. 21||Feb. 28 to March 18||March 7 to March 25|
|Feb. 28||March 7 to March 25||March 14 to April 1|
|March 7||March 14 to April 1||March 21 to April 8|
|March 14||March 21 to April 8||March 28 to April 15|
|March 21||March 28 to April 15||April 4 to April 22|
|March 28||April 4 to April 22||April 11 to April 29|
|April 4||April 11 to April 29||April 18 to May 6|
|April 11||April 18 to May 6||April 25 to May 13|
|April 18||April 25 to May 13||May 2 to May 20|
This chart goes up to the April 18 tax filing deadline. However, if you file a tax extension, you can submit your tax return up to six months later. In this case, just extend the time frame shown here. Expect a direct deposit in seven to 25 days or a paper check up to two weeks later.
Factors That Can Delay Your Refund
Even if you request a paper check, your refund usually arrives within about six weeks. However, various factors can slow the processing of your refund. The two biggest are tax credits and errors on your tax return.
When you’re expecting a refund, it makes sense to file your taxes as early as possible so you can get it sooner. However, if your return includes refundable tax credits, such as the earned income tax credit (EITC) or the additional child tax credit (ACTC), that won’t work for you.
The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act prevents the IRS from issuing EITC and ACTC refunds before mid-February. The IRS estimates that even early filers claiming these credits won’t see refunds hit their bank accounts or debit cards until the first week of March.
So if you claim one of these tax breaks, you get no benefit from filing your tax return on the first official day of tax season (Jan. 24, 2022, for the 2021 tax year). You’ll still have to wait until around March 1 to receive your refund.
The IRS takes longer to process tax returns that include errors, are incomplete, or need further review for any reason. Errors that require special handling include incorrect amounts for:
If the IRS finds any such error on your return, it attempts to fix it without contacting you. In this case, it sends you an explanation. If it needs help from you to fix the error, it sends you a letter and awaits your response. In that case, the whole process can take up to four months.
The IRS also takes extra time to process tax returns in cases of possible identity theft or fraud. For instance, one common tax refund scam involves filing a fake tax return and having the refund deposited in your account. The scammers then pose as IRS agents and demand you return the “erroneous” refund to them.
By taking extra time to process a return that looks like it might be fake, the IRS can stop this scam in its tracks. So while this practice can delay your real refund, it also reduces your risk of losing money to fraud.
Other Possible Causes for Delay
A couple of special situations can delay your tax return even longer. One of these is the use of Form 8379. You use this form if your spouse owes a tax debt and you want to avoid having your portion of your tax refund seized. If you file this form, your return can take up to 14 weeks to process.
Filing an amended tax return using Form 1040X can also lead to lengthy delays. Even in a normal year, it takes up to 16 weeks to process this kind of form. But in 2022, the IRS has a large backlog of these forms because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because of this, processing your amended return could take 20 weeks or more. If you’re in this situation, do not file the return again or attempt to contact the IRS directly about its status. Instead, check on it using the IRS’s online amended return status checker.
How to Track Your Income Tax Refund
To help you figure out when to expect your refund, the IRS offers a couple of methods for tracking it:
- IRS2Go. The official mobile app of the IRS, IRS2Go, is available for both Android and iOS devices. You can download it from the App Store, Google Play, or Amazon. In addition to checking your refund status, it can help you make a tax payment or find free tax preparation assistance.
- Where’s My Refund? The second tool is a page on IRS.gov called Where’s My Refund? It shows the status of your refund for the most recent tax year on file. The IRS updates this site daily, usually overnight.
You can use both these tools starting 24 hours after e-filing your return or four weeks after mailing a paper return. To start, you must enter some personal details, such as your Social Security number, filing status, and refund amount.
After entering your info, you can see whether the IRS has received your tax return, approved your refund, or sent it out. Once your refund reaches this third stage, you just need to wait for your bank to process the direct deposit or for your paper check to arrive in the mail.
Sadly, once you hit that e-file button or put your return in the mail, there’s nothing more you can do to speed up your refund. Checking the status of your refund on the app or website keeps you in the loop, but it won’t bring the money to you any faster.
The best thing to do while waiting for a tax refund is relax and go about your business. Eventually, you’ll find a pleasant surprise in your mailbox or checking account.
If you’re looking for something productive to do in the meantime, you can start planning how to use your refund when it arrives. Some good options include adding it to your emergency fund, paying off debt, or investing it toward a long-term financial goal.