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Still no tax refund? How to track your money and deal with IRS delays

Taxpayers need to know why their tax refund from the IRS hasn't arrived and how they can check. These details should help.

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Delays can be frustrating for those planning to use their refunds to pay bills or for everyday expenses.

Angela Lang/CNET

It's now been a while since the May 17 tax deadline. Though the IRS continues to work its way through 2020 income tax returns and refunds, many factors have caused delays, including issuing weekly batches of stimulus checks in the middle of a pandemic. The tax agency has also been automatically adjusting returns for a tax break on 2020 unemployment benefits as well as rolling out the expanded child tax credit for next month's first payment. 

The IRS estimate of issuing refunds within three weeks isn't quite accurate, which is leaving those taxpayers who've already waited over a month increasingly frustrated. The good news is that there are some online tools that can give you personalized refund information based on the processing of your tax return. Many may've already experienced how difficult it is to phone the IRS for help. 

We'll help you navigate why your refund could be held up and what it means if you've received a direct deposit labeled "IRS TREAS 310." If you have children, there are ways to know if you qualify for the advance monthly child tax credit payments starting on July 15. As a side note, there are ways to track your third stimulus check if that hasn't arrived in the latest round of payments this month. We've recently updated this story. 

What might be causing the delay with my tax refund?

Because of the pandemic, the IRS ran at restricted capacity in 2020, which put a strain on its ability to process tax returns and send out stimulus checks. The IRS is open again and processing mail, tax returns, payments, refunds and correspondence, but limited resources still continue to cause delays in services.

The IRS said it's issuing most refunds in less than 21 days right now but some are taking longer, including for mailed paper tax returns and manual processing. The IRS said it's also taking more time for 2020 tax returns that require review, such as determining recovery rebate credit amounts for the first and second stimulus checks or figuring earned income tax credit and additional child tax credit amounts. 

Here's a list of reasons your refund might be delayed: 

  • Your tax return has errors.
  • It's incomplete.
  • Your refund is suspected of identity theft or fraud.
  • You filed for the earned income tax credit or additional child tax credit.
  • Your return needs further review.
  • Your return includes Form 8379 (PDF), injured spouse allocation -- this could take up to 14 weeks to process.

How do I track my IRS tax refund with online tools?

To check the status of your income tax refund using the IRS tracker tools, you'll need to give some information: your Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, your filing status -- single, married or head of household -- and your refund amount in whole dollars, which you can find on your tax return. Also, make sure it's been at least 24 hours before you try tracking your refund.

Using the IRS tool Where's My Refund, enter your SSN or ITIN, your filing status and your exact refund amount, then press Submit. If you entered your information correctly, you'll be taken to a page that shows your refund status. If not, you may be asked to verify your personal tax data and try again. If all the information looks correct, you'll need to enter the date you filed your taxes, along with whether you filed electronically or on paper.

The IRS also has a mobile app called IRS2Go that checks your tax refund status. The IRS updates the data in this tool overnight, so if you don't see a status change after 24 hours or more, check back the following day.

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What do these IRS status messages mean?

Both IRS tools (online and mobile app) will show you one of three messages to explain your tax return status.

  • Received: The IRS now has your tax return and is working to process it.
  • Approved: The IRS has processed your return and confirmed the amount of your refund, if you're owed one.
  • Sent: Your refund is now on its way to your bank via direct deposit or as a paper check to your mailbox. (Here's how to change the address on file if you moved.)

Why is there a IRS 310 direct deposit in my bank account?

If you receive your tax refund by direct deposit, you may see IRS TREAS 310 for the transaction. The 310 identifies the transaction as an IRS tax refund. This would also apply to those receiving an automatic adjustment on their tax return or a refund due to new legislation on tax-free unemployment benefits. You may also see TAX REF in the description field for a refund.

If you see a 449 instead, it means your refund has been offset for delinquent debt.

How much longer for the IRS to deposit or mail my tax refund?

The IRS usually issues tax refunds within three weeks, but some taxpayers have been waiting over a month to receive their payments. If there are any errors, it might take the agency longer to process and issue your tax refund. The same goes for people who filed a claim for an earned income tax credit or the child tax credit. (Here's who qualifies for the child tax credit.)

The date you get your tax refund also depends on how you filed your return. For example, with refunds going into your bank account via direct deposit, it could take an additional five days for your bank to post the money to your account. This means if it took the IRS the full 21 days to issue your check and your bank five days to post it, you may be waiting a total of 26 days to get your money. 

If you submitted your tax return by mail, the IRS says it could take six to eight weeks for your tax refund to arrive. That's where tracking your refund comes in handy. 

Is calling the IRS even an option? 

While you can call the IRS to check your status, the agency's live phone assistance is extremely limited right now, so you may wait on hold for a while to speak to a representative. Also, the IRS says you should only call if it's been 21 days or more since you filed your taxes online, or if the Where's My Refund tool tells you to contact the IRS. Here's the number to call: 800-829-1040.

Can I also check the status of my unemployment tax refund? 

Those who collected unemployment benefits in 2020 and filed their tax returns early have started to receive additional tax refunds from the IRS. Under new rules from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, millions of people who paid tax on unemployment compensation could be eligible for a hefty sum of money back. 

However, it might not be possible to track the status of that refund using the online tools above. To find out when the IRS processed your refund and for how much, we recommend locating your tax transcript by logging in to your account and viewing the transactions listed there. We explain how to do that here

For more information about your 2020 taxes, here's how to claim missing stimulus money on your taxes and everything to know about the third stimulus check.