How to track down your IRS refund check

Posted at 1:36 PM, Apr 27, 2016

You have bought an expensive new toy in expectation of your tax refund, and are now desperately waiting for the refund to arrive before the repo man and his large friend Vito come to visit. How can you find out the status of your refund at any time to estimate whether you need to make a run for it?

A more likely scenario is that you are just curious about your refund, and would like to check the status periodically.

In either case, regardless of who prepared your taxes, you need to go through the IRS website to get your answer. Under the Refunds tab at, you can select the “Where’s My Tax Refund?” link and find out the latest on your return. The site is only updated once every 24 hours and is also available in Spanish.

If you e-filed, you can check the status within 24 hours after the submission, but on a traditional paper return, you will have to wait four weeks before checking. This process cannot be accelerated through the IRS or any third-party tax preparers.

When you are able to check, you will need to enter your Social Security number, your filing status, and the exact refund amount rounded up to the whole dollar. A status bar will appear showing that your return is at one of three possible stages:

  • Return Received – The IRS has received your return and is still in the review process.
  • Refund Approved – Your tax return has been reviewed and approved. The agency is in the process of sending you a check, or direct depositing your refund if you chose that method. When the refund has been approved, you should see an expected date for direct deposit or for your check to be mailed.
  • Refund Sent – The refund is en route to you. Checks may take a few weeks to arrive. For direct deposit, allow five working days for the bank deposit to clear before following up with the IRS.

The IRS website states that typical refunds take less than 21 calendar days. That may change with the complications of the Affordable Care Act, but so far, there is not enough data to say anything will be different in 2016.

If your return is still in the review process prior to approval, you may see the status bar replaced with an explanation or a set of instructions to follow. There is no need to panic – this does not imply an audit is on the way – but it does mean that there is some issue to clear up. It may be as simple as a math error or listing of an incorrect address. If the IRS needs more information, they will generally follow up via a letter.

The IRS even allows mobile options. The IRS2Go app is available for both Apple and Android systems. Remember that you will be entering your Social Security number, so make sure that you are on a secure wireless site before proceeding.

Can you go old school and call the IRS hotline? Certainly, you can, but do not expect an answer. Wait times are always long, and the IRS acknowledges that many calls are going unanswered.

If you filed an amended return, there is a separate link titled “Where’s My Amended Return?” that operates in the same fashion as “Where’s My Refund?”

Next time, wait until you have the check in hand before making your refund-related purchases. Nobody enjoys dealing with Vito, and if you have already spent your refund, you probably cannot afford plane tickets out of town.

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