How to check your federal IRS tax refund status

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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Nicole
Nicole
10 years ago

On the flip side– once you’re on your journey towards financial independence you’ll have to start paying estimated taxes throughout the year. I’m glad dividends are taxed at 15%, but man estimated taxes are annoying.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
10 years ago

Meanwhile, I expect my tax bill to be about $4,000. Sigh.

Kevin Khachatryan
Kevin Khachatryan
10 years ago

I feel like the journey toward financial independence always goes through people learning how to spend their tax money. If they are clever about it, they can invest it into a high earning account.

Nicole, I know what you mean, estimated taxes are really annoying.

Ely
Ely
10 years ago

Yeah I thought I was doing a great job of keeping my money and owing a little bit at tax time – but this year we got penalized for under-withholding. Can’t win I guess.

JenK
JenK
10 years ago

Minimizing my return worked fine when my only income was my job. Once I started earning enough investment income to make a difference on my taxes, minimizing my return came way too close to “paying lots of penalties” for my comfort.

Then last year hubby started doing 1099 contract work for a few companies. Thanks to the stock market not generating much income the extra withholding covered his self-employment tax, but… it looks like we’ll have to do estimated payments too.

Honey
Honey
10 years ago

I am getting about $1500 back this year (between state and federal) which will be enough to pay off almost 50% of my remaining credit card debt. Works for me! I don’t think I would’ve set aside $57 from each paycheck throughout the year otherwise. I am sticking with the “withhold enough to get a refund” strategy for probably the next two years, to help build my emergency fund, and then we’ll see.

Anna - Penny Sophisticate
Anna - Penny Sophisticate
10 years ago

Why let the government borrow your money for free? I get it (the whole forced savings thing), but let’s implement some discipline…or better yet, set it up so the savings is done automatically, and get your money working for you! Great point, great post.

Brenda
Brenda
10 years ago

I haven’t gotten a tax refund for over a decade. I always owe money at tax time. I guess that means I’m doing things right, but geez, I still feel over-taxed.

Dwight Kellams
Dwight Kellams
10 years ago

The “Make Work Pay Stimulus Tax Credit” for 2009 and 2010 causes dual earner households subject to Federal Income Tax Withholding to receive a smaller federal income tax refund. Couples that have historically received a small refund will be underpaid for those tax years. The reduced withholding is applied to every wage earner. It assumes that a wage earner with a married exemption qualifies for the full $800 credit. This means that a husband and wife are underwithheld becauae the credit is counted twice in their withholdings. As a result they receive an $800 surprise when they file their federal… Read more »

jennifer
jennifer
10 years ago

Dyou have posts about how to NOT get a tax refund back? How to get it all as you make it? I want to know more about this!

Sam
Sam
10 years ago

OK wise guys, the government is “borrowing my money for free”. I choose to ignore the anti-government sentiment inherent in those remarks. Instead, here’s a challenge for you: SHOW ME THE MONEY! I make about $34K a year. How much am I actually losing in earned interest by just letting the government pay me back at the end of the year? You can use ING’s current rates if you want.

Samuel
Samuel
10 years ago

Isn’t it amazing how a refund seems so great when, if fact, it means you’ve been loaning the government money for free? I think a refund is great if you haven’t learned how to control your money very well. If you have, a refund is kind of a slap in the face.

Brianne
Brianne
10 years ago

After owing for a few years, I don’t really mind getting a refund. This year, I was especially worried about underpaying so I had extra money held for my last five paychecks. I ended up getting all of that back and a tiny bit more, but I felt more comfortable doing it that way. It’s really difficult to figure out how much to have withheld when you are paid hourly and have more than one job. I make a different amount every single pay period and last year that was for three different jobs (one full-time and two part-time). I… Read more »

Lefty33
Lefty33
10 years ago

“Meanwhile, I expect my tax bill to be about $4,000. Sigh.”

Tyler,

It sounds like you need to buy a house and have a few children. That will rectify your problem. LOL

sarah
sarah
10 years ago

Sam’s got a point. If you got a $1200 refund, you could’ve invested that money in a savings account or paid down debt and saved a little. If you had instead kept the $100 each month, a savings account at 2% interest would have gotten you 16 cents in Jan + 33 cents in Feb all the way up to $2 in December… so you’re losing out on maybe $15 of interest in a year. If you have high interest debt you’d save more by paying it down each month instead of all at once, but the point is if… Read more »

chacha1
chacha1
10 years ago

Before marriage, I had my withholding carefully calculated (ha! it was pure luck) so that I owed the state a little bit and got about that same amount back from the Feds. This happened several years in a row. After we started filing jointly, I usually had tax over-withheld just a bit … the overpayments went to reduce the total bill based on DH’s self-employment. No more refunds for me, boo! Estimated taxes: frankly, I wish he paid them every month. This quarterly crap is a giant pain. My advice to DH (for YEARS, and sadly, disregarded) has been to… Read more »

Elizabeth W.
Elizabeth W.
10 years ago

For me, I aim to get back a very small refund. I don’t want to owe the government money (but who does?), but also don’t want to loan the government a large chunk of change. The last couple of years, my refund has been around the $100 range, which makes me happy.

Edward - Entry Level Dilemma
Edward - Entry Level Dilemma
10 years ago

One thing the “Where’s My Refund” app won’t do is tell you that your refund was returned to the IRS because you typed your bank account number wrong and added an extra digit. That’s what I did. After spending 30 minutes on hold, I found that out and that the IRS will mail my refund in 3-4 weeks.

My refund is largish this year because my job loss mid-year and I wound up having no tax liability.

John @ The Financial Ladder
John @ The Financial Ladder
10 years ago

Very handy dandy. I recently did my taxes, and it looks like I’m HOPEFULLY getting my big fat refund in two days. Cool…

Sam
Sam
10 years ago

Sarah, if a $1200 refund (mine are usually lower than that) would only get me about $15 a year in a high interest savings account, I’ll just go on letting the government borrow my money so I don’t miscalculate and wind up owing them instead. Getting an April Surprise is a terrible thing and I think I’ll just spare myself the headache, thank you.

almost there
almost there
10 years ago

You had me until you mentioned putting the money into a high-interest savings account..where are those these days? 🙂

Josh Heckathorn @ Creditnet.com
Josh Heckathorn @ Creditnet.com
10 years ago

Seriously…my HSBC account just dropped again to 1.10%. “High-interest” my butt!

No tax refund for me again this year. Uncle Sam gets plenty of my money, so I just don’t see the need to lend him any more than absolutely necessary.

chris
chris
10 years ago

This year we were supposed to get a child tax credit of $2000.00. After “adjustments” were made, our total credit amounted to $100.00. Thank you Obama…and he said he wasn’t going to tax the middle class, but we owe more this year than we EVER have.

Nicole
Nicole
10 years ago

Chris– you got more back in your paycheck during the year. They adjusted withholding amounts.

Honey
Honey
10 years ago

Yeah, I also don’t get what’s so bad about loaning the government some money for a year, and feel like all the “you gave the government an interest-free loan” is a POV that’s as thoroughly thought through as “homes always go up in value.” I do WANT the government to run, after all…

Sarah
Sarah
10 years ago

@sam I totally agree. After having to pay more thank $4k the past two years (new jobs, changes in residence, changes in self-employment) I really miss the days of getting that much back, and if it cost me even $50 in interest, well I pay that much in parking tickets every month so I just can’t get too worked up about it.

Matt M.
Matt M.
10 years ago

O.K. – with interest rates as low as they are, it makes sense to have a large amount of your taxes withheld so you receive a large refund. I just got a refund for $1,900 dollars – and I saved about $1,100 hundred of it. Thats WAY more than I would have saved if that same $1,900 had been given to me throughout the year. But if interest rates are high, AND your a good saver, then yeah, make your refund as close to zero as you can.

Leah
Leah
10 years ago

Sam (#10): I made 11k last year, and I got $850 back from overpaying and EITC and “making work pay.” If I had been able to keep the entire amount in ING the whole year, I would have made a whopping $13. No thanks. I currently make a variable income, and I have for the last several years. I’d much rather overpay and get it back than owe money. I used to be glad to write a small check to the government, but, you’re right — at small incomes with small amounts back, you’re really not losing that much interest,… Read more »

Shaun McGowan
Shaun McGowan
10 years ago

The IRS never initiates emails, so beware of any emails you received claiming to be from the IRS.

basicmoneytips
basicmoneytips
10 years ago

I do not begrudge people for withholding more and then getting a refund. If that is a savings plan, it might not be the best savings plan, but at least it is a plan. Last year they could have make some good money in the stock market with those extra funds, but if you are going to put it in a savings account, they would have gotten about 1.5% – certainly no windfall.

I was not aware of the site where you could check your refund, thanks for the tip

Writer's Coin
Writer's Coin
10 years ago

This whole idea of “lending the government money for free” is old news. Haven’t we gone over this a million times? 90% of the population that tries to adjust their withholdings to “even out” over the course of the year will either a) mess it up and wind up owing money or b) spend the money as they get it. I would the think the more sensible advice is to live without the money (pay yourself first only let the government hold it for you) for a year and then get it paid out to you. They can keep the… Read more »

Gia
Gia
10 years ago

I get a smallish refund (usually less than $1,500) and that’s okay with me. I’m a single filer. One year, I changed my withholding so that I wouldn’t get a refund and ended up owing Federal and New York state taxes. It was a really nasty shock! I’d rather get the refund and call it a day.

Tim
Tim
10 years ago

Can’t agree more with those saying the $14 dollars is not worth the reward. There are 2 reasons I agree. 1. $15 dollars is a small insurance cost to ensure you don’t have to dip into your savings to pay for taxes. You can plan for your taxes but small changes in December can impact your return. For me if my charitable givings slip in December I can lose substantial portions of my refund. This could be because I forget to mail a check because of some family emergency, vacations, or weather. 2. $15 dollars is not worth my time… Read more »

Jeff
Jeff
10 years ago

We just received $13,693.00 back from Federal & State combined, and honestly I don’t mind. As far as “loaning the government ‘interest free’ money” is concerned, I am not the least bit bothered. I would like to think that the government is putting that money to work in more “meaningful” and/or beneficial ways that will benefit society as a whole than I ever would. The way I look at it is that I really don’t need all that extra money each week so why not let the government hold on to it, maybe do something good with it, then in… Read more »

Julie
Julie
5 years ago
Reply to  Jeff

Perhaps you should be thanking taxpayers for the educational assistance that your wife received, not the government. I don’t understand it when people credit the government as their source of funds.

I make sure always to not overpay at the state level. I would much rather owe the state of California than have them owe me. They have been known to issue IOU statements rather than actual checks in the past.

Sam in Ne.
Sam in Ne.
10 years ago

I get a decent refund however, it’s not because I’m dim. I get the Earned Income credit, child care credit and two others I can’t remember right now. Just because someone gets a check doesn’t mean they deserve the type of remarks here. And truth be told, with the amount of other annual stuff I have due between February & April I’d rather accidentally “loan” the govt a few hundred bucks then be scrambling to get some extra $ together by April 15. I always figure in something of a pad since paycheck withholding is not always accurate – especially… Read more »

Caitlin
Caitlin
10 years ago

I’m with those who say it’s not worth it to them to “adjust to 0”. Me too! $15 (+/-) wouldn’t begin to cover the time it would take me to understand and properly adjust my withholdings so I didn’t get a refund AND didn’t owe taxes.
I’d rather have a personal savings and debt repayment plan throughout the year, and then take my tax refund and toss it onto debt.

JenK
JenK
10 years ago

It’s not just owing taxes that worries me. I have trouble shaking the idea that owing underpayment penalties is the same as overdraft penalties — proof I screwed up. 🙁

Courtney
Courtney
10 years ago

Sam, Sarah, Leah, etc – it’s not just about the (admittedly small) interest, it’s about access. If you need new tires in October, the government isn’t going to give you an advance on your refund to pay for it. If you had been saving that money throughout the year instead, you’d have it on hand when you need it.

Sam
Sam
10 years ago

#1 – $30 isn’t gonna pay for tires unless you get a used one from the junk yard. #2 – The govt doesn’t give cash advances on their tax credits. #3 – Tires don’t cost that much. If your sports car or SUV does take big expensive tires that you can’t afford then you should get a more economical vehicle that you can afford to maintain. #4 – you should have an emergency fund for something like tires. #5 – tires don’t just “boop” go bad. Unless you take a nail in the side wall they can be patched. And… Read more »

Rosa
Rosa
10 years ago

What about using what you would have withheld to pay down high interest credit card debt throughout the year?
I know putting the money in a high yield savings account would not save you much, but I would think that you could save a lot more in finance charges, so long as you start saving towards the end of the year to have enough to pay the tax bill in April. Any thoughts?

Dwight Kellams
Dwight Kellams
10 years ago

I work for Your Financial Watchdog.com and this is my opinion. If you are willing to let someone else use your money, which in this case is the IRS in the form of a large tax refund, then you truly don’t understand a couple of basic concepts that are key to the accumulation of wealth. First is the time value of money. A small amount of money multiplied over a long period of time eventually becomes a large amounts of money. People that procrastinate and don’t start investing because they don’t think their small investment will amount to anything do… Read more »

Courtney
Courtney
10 years ago

Sam – fair enough on #2. Some people can’t adjust their withholding below $0, if they get back more than they paid in credits. But everything else… #3/5 – The tires were just an example. Fill in any other potentially unexpected expense. I’m not sure where you got the $30 in point #1; all the tax preparation services say the average refund is $2400. That’s a lot of money! As for #4 – yes, you should have an EF. That’s the whole point of not letting the government hold your money all year, so you can put it in the… Read more »

Clearbrook
Clearbrook
9 years ago

It is doubtful that anyone is going to read this, but for what it is worth, there *is* a good reason to leave a substantial amount in the kitty with the IRS. The concept is simple: CYA IF the IRS has the money in their hands, and an audit finds they overpaid you a refund based upon an aggressive (but not criminal) position that you took, they can only come after you for the money that YOU OWE them and can *only* put penalties and interest on amounts YOU OWE them unless criminal fraud was involved. In short, that questionable… Read more »

keith a. williams
keith a. williams
8 years ago

I filed our taxes electronically at the tax service. He called 2-3 days later after the 25th of Ja. when we filed, and said you gave my money to someone else already so we supplied copies of our SS cards and DL’s to prove we are indeed the rightful recipients. How much longer before you trace where you sent MY money and arrest the scum? Levenworth is too good . Guantanomo bay comes to mind. There is iver $2000 in the wrong hands.

vonshauna brown
vonshauna brown
5 years ago

When would I get my federal taxes back

Kayla @ Femme Frugality
Kayla @ Femme Frugality
5 years ago

Interesting. I’ll make note of this website/tool so I can check on mine once my accountant has finished e-filing it. 🙂

Tamara
Tamara
5 years ago

I’m curious…is anyone else getting charged around $400 at H&R block for taxes…..? According to sources I’ve found online, the average of tax prep seems to be anywhere from $100 to $300. I know price in part has to do with complexity and also whether or not the deadline is fast approaching. Nonetheless that amount seems really expensive.

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