Here's how long it will take to get your 2019 tax refund

Everything you need to know to find out when your money will arrive from the IRS or why it's taking so long.

Oscar Gonzalez Former staff reporter
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Oscar Gonzalez
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There's a couple of reasons why you haven't received your tax refund yet. 

Angela Lang/CNET

July 15 is now in the rearview mirror, and -- hopefully -- you've filed your taxes or applied for an extension. In this strange year of 2020, the IRS postponed the deadline for both federal and most state taxes from the usual April 15 date, giving taxpayers three extra months to grapple with financial headwinds resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. If you filed your tax return, and are expecting a refund, there are a number of ways to find out how soon you'll get your money. 

Read more: Still missing stimulus check from the IRS? How to track when the payment is coming

That noted, there are more variables than ever impacting your refund this year. The IRS is struggling with limited staffing and the United States Postal Service has announced that mail delivery could be delayed. As a result, there's a chance your tax refund will show up a bit later than usual. Here are answers to some frequently-asked-questions about when you'll receive your tax refund in 2020.

When will I get my tax refund?

Under normal circumstances, the IRS says refunds on taxes filed electronically take less than three weeks to land in a bank account via direct deposit. It may take a few more days if you used the e-Collect service, which routes part of the refund to whoever prepared your return. And if you haven't prepped and filed your taxes online, your wait will likely be much longer -- six to eight weeks for a paper return, plus several more weeks if you're waiting for a paper check.

How can I track my tax refund? 

The IRS maintains a variety of systems to help you track your refund. For each of them, you'll need to supply your social security number, the exact amount of your tax refund and your tax filing status. Generally, you'll get a faster response using an online tool than using the phone.

  • Where's My Refund: This web-based tool managed by the IRS allows you to check your status 24 hours after your return is filed electronically -- or four weeks after mailing it. 
  • IRS2Go: This is the mobile app version, available for Android and iOS devices.  
  • IRS TeleTax: You can call the IRS at 1-800-829-4477. Be prepared for a long wait. 

My tax refund is taking too long

If you've been waiting for more than three weeks for a return submitted online -- or eight weeks if you sent it through the mail -- and have yet to receive a refund or response, there could be two reasons for the lack of a refund. 

The first is that the IRS has a huge backlog of returns. In June, the government agency told Congress there were 4.7 million returns it had yet to process as of May. 

A second reason might be an error in your tax filing. It could be a simple error: You might have entered the wrong Social Security number, forgot to sign a form or made a math mistake. Or you may have neglected to include some supporting documentation or required paperwork. If that's the case, you'll need to wait for the IRS to mail you a notice about the error. Calling the agency may not be worth the time -- phone representatives can only check the status of a return, not the nature of a delay. 

One bit of good news for the IRS taking extra time is that the agency is paying interest on refunds

I'm worried the post office lost my tax return. What should I do?

The coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on mail carriers. Back in April, the USPS announced that there would be delivery delays. If you opted for tracking, you can contact the service to check your package's status. If the carrier says it was delivered, contact the IRS at 1-800-829-1954 and speak with an agent. If your package was lost, you'll likely have to resend your paperwork or refile it electronically. 

I think my refund got lost or was stolen. How can I check on it?

If the IRS tracking tools show that a refund check was sent, but it's been more than a week and you have yet to receive it, it might be lost in the mail -- or stolen. Call the IRS at 1-800-829-1954 and talk with a live agent. The agency can put a stop payment on the original check. If the check was cashed fraudulently, the Bureau of Fiscal Services will review your claim, investigate and send a replacement if warranted. 

Looking for your stimulus payment? 

Find all the answers to your stimulus payment questions right here, including what's happening with a second stimulus check, what the payment means for your taxes, when your money might arrive and more.

Wondering about your eligibility for a second stimulus payment?

Learn how your annual income, citizenship and marital status might determine if you're entitled to more stimulus money.