Electronic filing of your tax return is the fastest way to obtain a refund, both from the Internal Revenue Service and your state revenue department. The IRS states that nine out of 10 taxpayers will receive their refund in 21 days or less of their return being accepted.
Under IRS regulations, any tax professional that prepares more than 10 personal income tax returns per year for a fee must electronically file them. In addition, all tax software providers must allow for electronic filing. Electronic filing for tax returns typically opens in late January of each year, although late action by Congress may require the IRS to delay the opening of e-file servers to give the agency time to make computer system changes as required by updated tax laws.
The IRS publishes a refund cycle chart each year. This chart is primarily produced as a reference for tax professionals, but is freely available on the IRS website. The chart shows when refunds are typically processed for returns accepted on certain dates. Note that the IRS must accept the return in order to issue your refund in a timely manner. The IRS heavily advises against planning to receive your refund by a particular date for purposes of making major purchases or meeting financial obligations.
A number of factors can delay the processing of your tax return and result in a delay in receiving your refund. Always double-check your tax return to ensure it is thorough and free of errors. If you are using tax software to prepare your own tax return, take advantage of the error check feature of your software and apply all software updates to make sure you have the latest version of all forms. Before filing, double-check all Social Security numbers entered on the return and your address. Lastly, double-check your bank account and routing number if requesting direct deposit. These steps help ensure your return is accurate and won't be rejected by the IRS computer systems.
Some tax professionals and software products may offer you additional options for receiving your refund. You may be able to obtain a pre-paid Visa card or other type of cash card. You may also be able to pay your tax preparation fees this way, often called a refund transfer. These options incur additional fees and do not result in obtaining your refund any faster. Some tax stores also offer a refund anticipation loan, which lends you a portion of your refund, usually up to $1,000. These loans bear exorbitant interest rates, often in excess of 300 percent annual percentage rate, and require significant fees. The remainder of your refund does not come any faster from using a refund anticipation loan and may actually take longer because it must come through the lender.
Checking on Refund
If you have not received your refund by the expected date, or as soon as 24 hours after the agency has received your electronic return, you can check on its status through the IRS' "Where's My Refund" tool (see Resources). You will need your Social Security number, your filing status and the exact amount of your refund.
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