As tax filing season approaches, the Internal Revenue Service cautions taxpayers not to rely on receiving their refund by a certain date, especially when making major purchases or paying bills. Some tax returns may require additional review and those refunds may take longer.
Many factors affect refund timing
Just as each tax return is unique and individual, so is each taxpayer’s refund. Here are a few things taxpayers should keep in mind if they are waiting on their refund but hear or see on social media that other taxpayers have already received theirs.
Different factors can affect the timing of a refund. The IRS, along with its partners in the tax industry, continue to strengthen security reviews to help protect against identity theft and refund fraud.
Even though the IRS issues most refunds in less than 21 days, it’s possible a particular taxpayer’s refund may take longer. Some tax returns require additional review and take longer to process than others. It may be necessary when a return has errors, is incomplete or is affected by identity theft or fraud. The IRS will contact taxpayers by mail when more information is needed to process a return.
By law, the IRS cannot issue refunds to people claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) before mid-February. The law requires the IRS to hold the entire refund, including the portion not associated with the credits. This helps ensure taxpayers receive the refund they're due by giving the IRS more time to detect and prevent fraud.
Using Where’s My Refund?, taxpayers can check the status of their refund within 24 hours after the IRS has received their electronically filed tax return or four weeks after mailing a paper return. It provides a personalized date the taxpayer can expect a refund after the IRS processes the return. Taxpayers should also take into consideration the time it takes to receive a check by mail, or for financial institutions to post the refund to their account.
Certain past-due debt reduces refunds
By law, the Department of Treasury's Bureau of the Fiscal Service (BFS) issues IRS tax refunds and conducts the Treasury Offset Program (TOP). Under TOP, BFS may reduce a taxpayer’s refund and offset all or part of the refund. This is done to pay past-due federal tax, state income tax, state unemployment compensation debts, child support, spousal support or other federal nontax debts, such as student loans.
BFS will reduce the refund to pay off the debt owed and send a notice to the taxpayer if an offset occurs. Any portion of the remaining refund after offset is issued in a check or direct deposited to the taxpayer as originally requested on the return.
Separate from the TOP, refund amounts may also be adjusted due to changes the IRS made to the tax return. When that happens, the taxpayer will get a notice explaining the changes. Where’s My Refund? will also reflect the reasons for the refund offset when it relates to a change on the tax return.