The big question many taxpayers are asking now is: “Where’s my refund?”
You’ve got a shot at getting a straightforward answer via IRS.gov. But then again, maybe not. Many taxpayers – who can’t get through the jammed phone lines at the Internal Revenue Service – are complaining that the “Where’s My Refund?” online tool isn’t helping them, either, according to critics.
“If they use the ‘Where’s My Refund?’ or ‘Where’s My Amended Return?’ tools, they get in essence, technologically, what would be a shrugged shoulder,” U.S. Rep. Jody Hice said during a House Oversight and Reform subcommittee hearing on April 21.
The Georgia Republican said his office has heard from taxpayers who are “absolutely at their wit’s end.”
“They’ve not gotten their tax refunds and they need that money.”
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Was my return lost?
Not being able to figure out what’s going on only triggers even more anxiety for taxpayers who are waiting and waiting for refunds that can be used to pay the rent, cover car payments, buy food and pay for other necessities.
Many, particularly those who file paper returns, end up being unsure whether the return was somehow lost in the mail.
The “Where’s My Refund?” tool at IRS.gov received more than 632 million hits last year and more than 300 million already this year, according to testimony at the hearing by National Taxpayer Advocate Erin Collins.
The tool, though, has been unable to answer or provide useful information for taxpayers whose returns are caught up in processing delays, she said.
Taxpayers continue to check the IRS online tool, holding onto the hope that this could be the day that they’d see a change in status.
6.6 million returns unprocessed from last year
Much of the problem involves paper returns, which are facing a huge backlog from last year. The IRS processing system calls for first addressing the backlog for last year’s paper returns before processing the paper returns filed in 2022.
Collins said the IRS has 3 million tax returns and another 3.6 million amended returns that haven’t been processed from last year. Another 5 million returns are waiting for taxpayers to resolve specific issues.
Add to that, she said, another 9 million paper returns that were filed in 2022.
More reasons for delays
Refund delays also can be triggered if an e-filed or paper return has a mistake. Trouble spots include errors involving the recovery rebate credit and the child tax credit, missing information, and cases where the IRS suspects identity theft or fraud.
As of April 7, the IRS had issued 9.4 million math error notices – and 8.3 million of these notices were related to the recovery rebate and the child tax credit, according to a blog post by Collins.
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The IRS now includes a 60-day expiration date on its math error notices to let taxpayers know the deadline for contesting the adjustment.
The IRS will send a letter if more information is needed or if you must verify your identity.
“The resolution of these issues could take 90 to 120 days depending on how quickly and accurately you respond,” the IRS said, “and the ability of IRS staff trained and working under social distancing requirements to complete the processing of your return.”
Six-month wait for some refunds
The massive inventory backlog, Collins said, will mean that it could take six months or more for taxpayers who filed paper returns to receive their refund.
While Collins has warned of this six-month delay in the past, many taxpayers aren’t watching congressional hearings to get updates on their tax situation.
The IRS has generally been able to process a refund within two weeks for an electronically filed tax return and up to six weeks for a paper tax return.
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A Detroit-area man said he mailed his federal return on Feb. 8 and still had not seen any cash in 11 weeks.
The reader, who asked not to be named because he did not want others to know about his finances, is expecting $2,997 for his federal refund. He received his state of Michigan refund in mid-March. Last year, he said, he waited well over two months for the federal refund.
“Tried calling IRS twice this week; put me on hold, couldn’t get any answers,” he wrote.
The “Where’s My Refund?” tool isn’t giving him any clues, either, he said.
IRS issued about 78 million refunds
In general, tax experts say, this tax season doesn’t look like the all-out disaster that hit last year.
Millions of people have already received their refunds. The IRS issued 78.2 million refunds through April 15, up 6.7% from a year ago.
The average refund was $3,103 this tax season through April 15, up 8% from the same time a year ago, according to the latest data from the IRS.
The federal income tax deadline was April 18 this year but last year it was extended until May 17.
For many taxpayers, the “Where’s My Refund?” tool – launched in 2002 – is the first place to look for some answers.
The tool offers personalized refund information as soon as the IRS processes the tax return and approves the related refund, according to the IRS.
If that paper return is caught up in the backlog, though, the IRS hasn’t processed it yet and the “Where’s My Refund” tool isn’t going to quickly give you any idea when you’ll get your money.
How to track your refund
In order to use “Where’s My Refund” at IRS.gov, you’d need to provide your Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, your filing status and the “exact whole dollar amount of the expected refund.”
You’d find your refund amount on Line 35a of Form 1040 for the 2021 tax year.
The earliest that you could check the status of your refund is within 24 hours after the IRS has received an e-filed return or four weeks after the taxpayer mails a paper return.
The refund tool updates once daily, the IRS notes, “so there’s no need to check more often.”
The IRS said taxpayers without access to a computer can call the IRS Refund Hotline at 800-829-1954.
The “Where’s My Refund” online tool receives information from different sources. The refund tracker bar can tell you whether the return has been received, whether the refund was approved and whether the refund was issued or sent.
Tax experts note that some taxpayers will see a notice saying there’s “no record found.” But that can mean the return is still being processed.
Check on paper returns too
The IRS said that taxpayers who filed paper returns can check “Where’s My Refund?” online at IRS.gov. The tool could tell you whether the IRS has received your return or is processing or reviewing it.
Once the IRS processes the return and approves the refund, the “Where’s My Refund?” tool will give an expected refund date and explain any changes to the refund – if the refund is smaller because it was used to offset back taxes, for example, or if a math error was corrected.
The “Where’s My Refund” information also is available via the IRS2Go app for mobile devices. Information is available in English and Spanish.
ContactSusan Tompor: email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter@tompor.