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Waiting for your tax refund still? You can track it

If you filed your 2020 income tax return but don't have your IRS refund yet, here are some ways to track the status of your money.

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Did you file your taxes before the May 17 deadline, but still haven't seen your refund money? 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Tax Day, May 17, is looming. Some may have already filed their 2020 tax return and need their refund. If that's you, try using IRS tools to check its status. And if you haven't filed your taxes yet, you should file your tax return before the deadline or request an extension from the IRS

Whether you mailed a paper return or e-filed, there are two tracking tools that will tell you if your tax return was received, if the IRS is processing it or when your refund was deposited into your account or mailed out. This tax season, the IRS is taking a bit more time to process paper returns, and there might be other delays holding up your refund. We'll walk you through exactly how to track down your refund. 

The IRS tools can also help if you claimed a missing stimulus payment as a Recovery Rebate Credit on your 2020 tax return. If you think your third stimulus check is missing, the IRS has an app for you to track the status of your payment. Here's more information about whether you might need to file an amended tax form, if you're eligible for other COVID-related credits and benefits, and if you may see a fourth stimulus payment this year. If you have children, here's how to calculate how much money you might get through child tax credits. If you received unemployment in 2020, you could get extra money with your refund if you qualify for a tax break. Also, here's how to see if the IRS has a tax refund you need to claim. This story is updated frequently. 

Can I track my income tax refund money?

To track the status of your tax refund, you need several things on hand: 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 the tax return status messages mean?

Both the 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 your address on file if you moved.)

How long will it take to get my tax refund? 

The IRS usually issues tax refunds within 21 days, and many people get their refunds much sooner. However, this year, the IRS is facing delays due to a variety of complications, and some taxpayers are expected to face longer wait times 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 it 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. Here are some possible dates when you could receive your refund if you filed or plan to file electronically.

When your tax refund could arrive, if no additional delay

If you file or filed on this date This is the soonest This is the latest
March 1 March 8 March 22
April 1 April 8 April 22
April 15 April 22 May 6
May 17 (last day to file) May 24 June 7
Oct. 15 (last day with extension) Oct. 22 Nov. 5

Could my tax refund be held up?

The IRS has a list of reasons your refund could potentially be delayed.

  • Your tax return has errors.
  • It's incomplete.
  • Your refund has been affected by 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 14 weeks to process.

Will the IRS take questions by phone? 

While you can technically 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 or more days since you filed your taxes online, or if the Where's My Refund tool tells you to contact the IRS.

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.