Chances are you’ve gotten a coronavirus stimulus check by now, but you may still be waiting on that other chunk of change the IRS owes you: your tax refund.
The IRS says it’s still processing most tax returns and issuing refunds within 21 days. But as of May 29, the agency had processed 13.3% fewer returns than it had at the same point in 2019, according to filing season statistics.
Part of that decrease is because some people have taken advantage of the coronavirus tax extension, which pushed the filing date to July 15. The IRS has received 6.5% fewer returns to date compared with 2019.
But more than 12 million returns have yet to be processed, leaving many people wondering when they’ll get their refund. Here’s what’s going on if you’re still waiting and wondering “where is my tax refund?”
Why You Haven’t Received Your Tax Refund
If you’re among the 10% of taxpayers who file a paper return and you haven’t received your refund yet, prepare for a long wait.
The IRS put processing paper returns on hold when it began operating remotely in March. By mid-May, an estimated 5 million unopened paper returns had piled up, Politico reports.
Staffers are now trickling back into the office, but as of this writing on June 8, the IRS says it still isn’t processing paper tax returns. There’s no timeline available for when they’ll start to work through that backlog or how quickly they’ll be able to do so.
But some people who have filed electronically, as the IRS is urging people to do, report they’re also still waiting.
If your return has an issue that requires human attention, you could be in for a longer wait than usual, given that the IRS is still operating at reduced capacity.
Be prepared for an especially long wait if you made an error that requires an amended return. The IRS will notify you by mail in that case, and you’ll have to send in Form 1040X. There’s only one way to do this: by mail. So yeah, your amended return will be added to the 5 million-plus stack of unopened returns.
But a lot of delays e-filers are experiencing likely aren’t related to coronavirus. For example, if your refund was sent to a bank account that you’ve since closed, the IRS will eventually cut you a paper check, but that adds to the wait time. If someone fraudulently filed a tax return in your name to steal your refund, the IRS will think that you’ve already filed and reject it.
And if you owe certain types of debt like child support or back taxes, the IRS could take your refund and use it to offset what you owe.
What to Do if You’re Still Waiting
The first step is to make sure the IRS has actually received your return.
You can track your return using the Where’s My Refund feature on the IRS website or the IRS2Go app. You’ll need to provide your Social Security number, filing status and the dollar amount of your refund.
If you filed electronically, you should be able to see whether the IRS has accepted your return within 24 hours. But if you sent a paper return, you can expect a long wait before you can confirm that the IRS even has your return. Even in normal circumstances, tracking a paper return can take about four weeks.
You can also use the tracking system to find out when your refund has been approved and when it’s been sent.
If you can’t track your return using the website or app and need to speak to a human, you can probably guess what that means: more waiting.
The IRS says its staff will only help you research the status of your refund if you filed electronically more than three weeks ago or sent it by mail at least six weeks ago, or if Where’s My Refund tells you to get in touch. But the IRS issued that guidance in January, i.e., before coronavirus.
Considering that in 2019, only 29% of the 100 million calls the IRS received were answered by a human, we wouldn’t hold out much hope of talking to someone right now. But if you want to try, the number for checking the status of a refund is 800-829-1954.
What to Do if You Haven’t Filed Yet
The big takeaway if you haven’t filed yet: Filing electronically is the way to go. There are plenty of easy-to-use tax software options, many of which have free versions.
Not only will you get your refund faster, but you’re also less likely to make errors that could result in further delays because the software is doing the math for you. Additionally, filing electronically is more secure than putting all that personal information in an envelope.
And of course, the sooner you file, the better. It usually takes longer to get your refund as Tax Day approaches, so stop delaying and block off time for a date with your tax software of choice.
Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. She writes the Dear Penny personal finance advice column. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected]