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Waiting on your IRS tax refund? Check the status of your money and see why there's a delay

With ongoing IRS delays, you may have to wait more than 21 days to get your tax refund. You can check the status of your money and see common reasons for delays. Here's what we know so far.

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The IRS is juggling processing refunds with limited live assistance this summer. Here's how to check to check your refund status for yourself.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The income tax filing extension deadline passed last month, but many taxpayers are still waiting for their refunds. With the advance child tax credit payments starting July 15 and weekly batches of stimulus checks still going out and sending out tax refunds, the IRS is busier than usual this time of year. If you are still waiting for your refund, here is what could be holding up your money and how to check the status online. 

The IRS tries to hit a "21 days or less" timeline for sending refunds, but some returns will take longer to process. If there's an error or your return is incomplete it may take longer than expected. Fortunately, the IRS has online tools that can give you personalized information on the status of your tax refund. 

We'll help you dig into why your refund could be held up and how to track it, using the handy IRS tools. For more on the IRS, if you have children, you have several ways to know if you qualify for the advance monthly child tax credit payments that start next month. As a side note, you also have ways to track your third stimulus check if that hasn't arrived in the latest round of payments. We've updated this story recently. 

What could be holding up your 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 continue to cause delays.

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.

What do these three status messages mean from the IRS?

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.)

How exactly do you track your IRS tax refund online?

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 or up to four weeks if you mailed your return to start 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. Once your return and refund are approved, you'll receive a personalized date to expect your money. 

Where's My Refund has information on the most recent tax refund that the IRS has on file within the past two years, so if you're looking for return information from previous years you'll need to contact the IRS for further help. 

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What is the IRS TREAS 310 direct deposit in your 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 long do you have to wait for your 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

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. 

Can you call the IRS by phone to ask about your refund? 

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. 

Why will you get a paper check instead of a direct deposit refund?

There are a couple of reasons that your refund will be mailed to you. Your money can only be electronically deposited into a bank account with your name, your spouse's name or a joint account. If that's not the reason, you may be getting multiple refund checks, and the IRS can only direct-deposit up to three refunds to one account. Additional refunds must be mailed. Lastly, your bank may reject the deposit and this is the IRS' next best way to refund your money quickly. 

How can you check your unemployment tax refund status? 

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.