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Where's my tax refund money? Track when the IRS processes your tax return

Now that the IRS has sent out most of the third stimulus checks, it should be able to put more focus on processing and sending out tax refunds. Here's how to keep track of your tax return status.

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Tax refund proving elusive? There may be a reason for that. We'll show you two ways to try to hunt it down.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Now that the IRS has sent out most of the third stimulus checks -- although plus-up payments are still on the way -- the agency can finally switch gears to processing tax returns and sending out refunds to taxpayers. If it's been longer than 21 days since you filed your 2020 tax return online, note that some take longer for the IRS to process for a number of reasons. And if you haven't filed yet, you have until May 17, which is just a month away.

Tied into tax refunds, the IRS is also sending out missing stimulus money from the first two checks. Once most of the tax returns are completed, the IRS will need to switch its focus to the child tax credit payments. If you have qualified dependents and you're eligible based on your income, start calculating how much you'll get.

For now, use our chart below to see when your tax refund should arrive. Plus, we'll explain what issues there could be if it's past the arrival date. Also, if you file by paper (the IRS recommends you don't), it will almost certainly take longer to get your refund. While you're here, check out the details we know about a fourth stimulus check, how you can get more money with a 2021 child tax credit, who needs to file an amended tax form and seven tax breaks for 2020. This story is updated frequently. 

6 reasons you haven't received your refund yet

The IRS has a list of reasons that could potentially be holding up your refund.

  • 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.

Have you been tracking your 2020 tax refund? Start now

You need several things on hand to track the status of your tax refund: your Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, your filing status -- for example, single, married or head of household -- and your exact refund amount in whole dollars, which can be found 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 Social Security number or ITIN, your filing status and your exact refund amount, then press Send. If you entered your information correctly, you'll be taken to a page that shows the status of your refund. 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.

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

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When will you get your tax refund? See dates below

The IRS says it issues most tax refunds within 21 days, but many people typically get their refunds much sooner. However, this year, the IRS is reportedly facing delays complicated by the fact that it had to send out third stimulus checks at the same time (here's more on stimulus checks and tax season 2020). However, now that most stimulus payments have been made, the IRS should be switching gears to processing tax returns.

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 CTC).

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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 submit 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, depending on when you filed. 

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
Mar 1 Mar 8 Mar 22
Apr 1 Apr 8 Apr 22
Apr 15 Apr 22 May 6
May 17 (last day to file) May 24 Jun 7
Oct 15 (last day with extension) Oct 22 Nov 5

What your tax return status says and why

Both the IRS tools (online and mobile) 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 if you moved.)

The 'latest' date has passed to get your tax refund. Should you contact the IRS? 

While you can technically call the IRS to check your status, the agency's live phone assistance is extremely limited at this time, 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 taxes, here's when the 2021 deadline is to file your tax returnhow to claim missing stimulus money on your taxes and everything to know about the third stimulus check.