Where’s My Refund? How to Get Your Tax Refund Fast

Are you ahead of the game and already filed your tax return? You rock!

Now you’re wondering “where’s my refund?” We can help!

You’re in the right place. The IRS isn’t very straightforward with a lot of tax items since there are so many gray and “up to interpretation” areas, but on the tax refund front, they are a little less opaque. The trouble with taxes is all of the legalese, so it can be a big challenge.

As for when to expect your tax refund, it all depends on when you filed, how you filed, and how you asked for your refund.

If you have not filed your taxes yet, read on to see how to get your tax refund as quickly as possible. If you already filed your taxes, jump to this part to check on your the status of your refund and see the IRS refund schedule.

Table of Contents
  1. Where Is My Tax Refund?
  2. How to Get Your Refund Fast
  3. E-Filing Is Safer Too
  4. How to Check Your Refund Status
  5. IRS Refund Schedule
  6. Other Important Tax Dates for 2021
  7. Don’t Take a Refund Anticipation Loan!
  8. Still Haven’t Gotten Your Refund?

Where Is My Tax Refund?

If you’ve already filed your return and just need to find your tax refund, go to the IRS website and check your refund status.

You will need your Social security number or ITIN, your filing status, and your exact refund amount to get this information.

If you are missing some of that information, you will have to call the IRS – the number is 1-800-829-1040. Only do this if it has been over 21 days since you e-filed or the tool tells you to contact them.

How to Get Your Refund Fast

The fastest way to get your tax refund is to file your taxes electronically. That means using tax software (versus a paper form) and e-filing (versus postal mailing) your return as early as possible, then requesting your refund as a direct deposit.

The University of Hartford’s Professor of Taxation, Patricia Jaeger, agrees.

Patricia Jaeger, Professor of Taxation at the University of Hartford

People can receive their tax refund quickly if they provide their bank routing number and a checking or savings account number to the IRS. That way the refund can be directly deposited into their account. They should also electronically file their tax returns.

Many providers, including the IRS, provide some filers the ability to electronically file their return for free. Even if you have to pay a fee, it’s worth it to quickly file your return and receive your refund. This also would apply to any state tax returns and refunds.

When the average tax refund is over three thousand bucks, it pays to get it as quickly as you can.

When you mail your return, the post office needs to mail it. Then the IRS needs to convert it into electronic form. (this can take four weeks!)

Assuming no errors, it’ll take a few days to process your return.

If you request a check, they have to cut the check, mail it to you, and then you have to deposit it at the bank. All of those take time. A few days here, a few days there, four weeks here, yadda yadda, before you know it you’re talking real-time!

If you do everything electronically, from filing to deposit can be as fast as 21 days. The IRS has reported that 90% of tax refunds are issued within 21 days if you file electronically and opt for direct deposit.

E-Filing Is Safer Too

As a bonus, if you’re worried about identity theft and security (we all should), e-filing is the safest way to file your taxes.

When you mail a return, it has gone through so many hands. Your postman has to pick it up, your local post office has to process it, it has to be moved from your post office to the IRS via the distribution system, and then someone at the IRS has to take it and process it locally. That’s a lot of people. There’s a 99.999999% nothing happens.

When you e-file, it goes through the internet in an encrypted form and no one sees it. Zero. Plus, the IRS will confirm they received your return. They don’t do that if you mail it.

How to Check Your Refund Status

Wait 24 hours after e-filing, 4 weeks after mailing a return

The IRS has a tool that you can use to find out your refund status – it’s called Get Refund Status (clever name!) and you’ll need:

  • Your Social Security Number
  • Your Filing Status
  • Your Refund Amount (exact whole dollar amount)

If you mailed your tax return, you need to wait four weeks. If you e-filed, you need to wait just 24 hours. (see! e-filing is waaaaay faster)

That tool will then give you a status update and tell you a personalized date once the IRS has approved your refund.

IRS Refund Schedule

If the tool hasn’t been updated yet or you have some future planning to do with that refund but haven’t filed yet, it is well known.

The dates are based on when the return is accepted by the IRS. If you mail it, you won’t know the exact date since they won’t send you confirmation. If you e-file, then you’ll know the exact date and time of the confirmation.

This schedule also depends on whether or not you have any special circumstances. For example, if you’ve been the victim of identity theft or fraud, your return can take longer to process. If your return is incomplete or contains errors, it will take longer to return.

Finally, the refund sent date depends on whether you ask for a Direct Deposit or a Paper Check. If you request a paper check, it is mailed four days after the Direct Deposit would have been processed. It will also take a few days for you to receive it.

The math of it is straightforward – just take the calendar week (Monday to Sunday is one week) your return is accepted and you will get your direct deposit sent on the 2nd Monday after that week. The mailed refund is sent that Friday.

Here’s the 2021 schedule the IRS has shared for your taxation enjoyment (for 2021, they only started taking submissions on February 12th:

Return Accepted before 11 AMDirect Deposit SentPaper Check Mailed
Feb 12 – 13Feb 26Mar 5
Feb 14 – 20Mar 5Mar 12
Feb 21 – 27Mar 12Mar 19
Feb 28 – Mar 6Mar 19Mar 26
Mar 7 – Mar 13Mar 26Apr 2
Mar 14 – Mar 20Apr 2Apr 9
Mar 21 – Mar 27Apr 9Apr 16
Mar 28 – Apr 3Apr 16Apr 23
Apr 4 – Apr 10Apr 23Apr 30
Apr 11 – Apr 17Apr 30May 7

Other Important Tax Dates for 2021

When can I file my tax return? The IRS announces when you can file your taxes and for 2020 that date is February 12th, 2021. You can start your return whenever you want but you won’t be able to file them until the 12th this year. The pandemic has delayed a lot of this this year!

Also, other institutions aren’t required to mail your forms, like 1099s, until January 31st.

When are taxes due? The due date for filing your federal income taxes is normally April 15th, 2020, assuming no holidays that push the due date.

For 2020, due to the Coronavirus epidemic, the tax due date was moved to July 15th, 2020. The deadline for 2021 was also pushed to May 17th , 2021. So you get an extra month to file this year.

If you request an extension, your taxes are still due on Tax Day even if your return isn’t due until October 15th. This date also follows the weekend/holiday rule but the 15th in 2021 is a Friday.

If you claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit, you won’t receive your refund until after February 15th because of the PATH Act. Federal law required the IRS to hold the refunds of anyone who claimed those two credits and is a rule that applies every year. This is to prevent fraud.

The Estimated Tax due dates for 2021 are April 15th, June 15th, September 15th, and January 15th of the next year. These dates do not change and are not related to your tax return so they don’t experience any type of date shifting due to weekends or holidays. They’re due on those dates every single year.

Don’t Take a Refund Anticipation Loan!

A refund anticipation loan is a loan based on your federal tax refund. Lenders start offering this around tax season and they’re typically very expensive, chock full of fees and a very high-interest rate. If you need cash, this is often one of the most expensive ways to borrow money and something you should try to avoid at all costs. These are so bad that the IRS stopped providing information to these companies!

If you haven’t filed your taxes yet, do so as soon as possible electronically! If all is well, you will be able to get your tax refund in as little as two weeks.

Companies will sometimes name these different things but always look at the fine print for interest rates and fees.

Still Haven’t Gotten Your Refund?

You can call the IRS… but you need to wait 21 days if you filed electronically and six weeks if you filed via mail. (again, e-filing is so much faster)

You can call the IRS at 800-829-1040 (here’s a link to the IRS website with this same number listed, for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t trust a random website either…).

Make sure you know your Social Security Number (or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number if you don’t have an SSN) and your filing status. Also, have your prior-year tax return and the year you’re calling about. Finally, if you have any notices or letters, have those too. This will help you confirm your identity so they can help.

When you do get your refund, make sure to use it on something financially responsible!

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About Jim Wang

Jim Wang is a thirty-something father of four who is a frequent contributor to Forbes and Vanguard's Blog. He has also been fortunate to have appeared in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur, and Marketplace Money.

Jim has a B.S. in Computer Science and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Information Technology - Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Masters in Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. His approach to personal finance is that of an engineer, breaking down complex subjects into bite-sized easily understood concepts that you can use in your daily life.

One of his favorite tools (here's my treasure chest of tools,, everything I use) is Personal Capital, which enables him to manage his finances in just 15-minutes each month. They also offer financial planning, such as a Retirement Planning Tool that can tell you if you're on track to retire when you want. It's free.

He is also diversifying his investment portfolio by adding a little bit of real estate. But not rental homes, because he doesn't want a second job, it's diversified small investments in a few commercial properties and farms in Illinois, Louisiana, and California through AcreTrader.

Recently, he's invested in a few pieces of art on Masterworks too.

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  1. Jeromie says

    My refund was mailed out may 11 2018 here it is May 22 and still haven’t received my check how long it takes to get my refund in themail after it’s been mailed out

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