This article is by staff writer Lisa Aberle.

April 15th may be a few weeks away, but I’m guessing some of you have already filed your tax return. We, as a matter of fact, just finished our tax return last week. For the second year in a row, we are getting a small refund. (As an aside, we have a large nonrefundable tax credit that is taunting me. Our tax liability wasn’t high enough to use much of it, so there it sits…)

Whether you are getting a large or small refund this year, you are probably anxious to receive it — I know I am! Did you know you can check with the IRS to find out what the status of your federal tax refund is?

How? I am so glad you asked….

Simple, web-based IRS tool lets you check your federal tax refund’s status.

Considering the complicated tax code, I think it is amazing that this tool is called, quite simply,”Where’s my refund?” Anyway, you will need to provide your social security number, filing status, and exact — please note “exact” — refund amount in order for your request to be processed.

You can even use the official smartphone app of the IRS (IRS2Go) to check the status of your refund AND find free tax preparation assistance (if you qualify). You will need to provide the same information to check your refund status whether you use the app or the online tool. The app also provides various hotline numbers to call for various tax issues.

Don’t have a computer or a smartphone? You can also call the IRS to check the status. However, the IRS phone representatives can only research your refund status if 21 days have passed since you e-filed, or six weeks since you filed a paper return, or if their web-based tool directs you to call them. Plus, they might be a little busy around tax time.

Our tax refund will be direct-deposited, but even if you are getting a regular check, this method still works.

When can you start checking the status of your tax refund?

If you e-file, you can check after 24 hours. If you do a paper-based return, wait four weeks. The IRS states that the online tool is only updated once every 24 hours, so there is no need to check it more often. In general, you can expect your refund about 21 days after you e-file. As I mentioned above, if you haven’t received your refund within this time frame, it’s time to give the IRS a call.

If you’re using direct deposit, check with your bank regularly to confirm the refund has been deposited. The IRS will not notify you that the check has been deposited.

Want your money more quickly next year?

To receive your tax refund more quickly, the IRS recommends e-filing and direct deposit. Even if you choose to do a paper return, make sure your return is free of errors and has your correct mailing address, so the return can be processed — and the money deposited to your checking account! — as soon as possible.

Want a refund next year? Or not…

If you have always received a refund but want to see if you now have the discipline to save on your own, consider adjusting your W-4 so that less is withheld from your paycheck. (The IRS withholding calculator can help you calculate how much you should have withheld.) This will, in essence, spread your refund out over the course of a year. If you have the discipline to use this money wisely, you will have use of it much earlier than if you had waited for a refund.

On the other hand, if a tax refund is a method of forced saving you can appreciate, consider having more withheld from your paycheck.

As always, do what works for you. And may your check arrive soon!

[Editor's note: An earlier version of this article appeared on March 10, 2010.]

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