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12 Reasons You Haven’t Received Your Tax Refund

If you’re lucky enough to receive a tax refund this year, you’re probably eager to receive it.

The IRS says it should take 21 days to issue a refund once it has been processed.

If it has been longer than this, several factors may be holding it up. Before you start to panic, take into consideration the process and what is going on with your paperwork.

Check Your Tax Refund Status

Before you panic, find out the IRS status of your refund.

If it’s been at least 24 hours since the IRS received your e-filed tax return, or four weeks after mailing a paper return, you can visit IRS.gov and click on the “Check My Refund Status” link.

You can also call the IRS Refund Hotline six weeks after mailing a return or 21 days after e-filing to find out the status of your refund: 1-800-829-1954.

If your refund status shows that your refund has been sent, but you haven’t received it there are some additional steps you’ll need to take depending on the method you were to receive your tax refund to locate and receive the money:

Tax refund by check

If you were getting your refund by check, it’s possible the check was lost or stolen in the mail. You will need the IRS to trace the refund for you.

If your tax filing status is married filing jointly, complete IRS Form 3911 (Taxpayer Statement Regarding Refund) and mail it to the same IRS service center that you would file your paper return.

If your tax filing status is single, head of household, or married filing separate, call the IRS Refund Hotline (1-800-829-1954) and report your refund as lost via the automated system or while speaking to an IRS representative, or use the Check My Refund Status link on the IRS website, or the IRS2Go mobile app to request a trace for a paper check refund that has not been received.

Tax refund by direct deposit

If you were supposed to get your refund via direct deposit and have not after 21 days, you could have made a mistake when entering your bank account number and routing number.

If you've made errors on your return the IRS does not have to fix them for you, so you will need to call your bank to find out what to do in this situation.

If your bank is unwilling to help, file IRS Form 3911, (Taxpayer Statement Regarding Refund) with the IRS for help getting the funds returned to you.

1. Government Shutdown

A government shutdown often means that certain government agencies are operating at very low capacities (if at all).

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is one such agency that is affected.

For example, the 2018-2019 government shutdown caused the IRS to have very limited operations for 35 days from Dec. 22, 2018 to Jan. 25, 2019. This is the same time period that that IRS typically begins accepting tax returns.

However, because of a shutdown, the IRS processes returns later than usual, especially as a bit of paperwork piles up while employees were furloughed.

Additionally, if you filed with tax preparation software, note that the returns may not be sent until the IRS is ready to accept the returns. The software holds the return until the shutdown is over and the IRS starts to accept returns.

2. Review Shows Errors

If a review of your tax return shows errors, your tax refund could be delayed.

Doing it the old fashioned way (a paper return) leads to the possibility that the IRS scanner has trouble deciphering your writing.

If this is the case, your taxes must be reviewed by an actual person, and this can take several days, particularly with fewer professionals working at the IRS due to budget cuts.

Tax information is then entered into a computer and put into a raw data file. An editing program checks it for mistakes, like extra zeros on income or a wrong Social Security number.

3. Victim of Fraud

Aside from errors or being partially complete, the return may, unfortunately, be affected by fraud or identity theft.

If someone else attempts to file taxes using your Social Security Number, or your tax preparer changes your direct deposit information, you could be the victim of fraud. Getting your refund will take longer while the situation is investigated and resolved.

If you think your tax preparer has changed your direct deposit information to receive your refund, file a police report and name the tax preparer as the suspect. Then, fill out IRS Form 14157-A, (Tax Return Preparer Fraud or Misconduct Affidavit), and follow the instructions for additional forms and documents you will need to submit to the IRS to have your refund situation investigated and resolved.

4. Incorrect Information

If any of your information is entered with an error, your tax refund can be delayed. If your employer wrote down different information than what you recorded, it might be another source of the holdup.

5. Form 8379

If you file a joint tax return and all or some of your tax refund was applied to your spouses’ past-due federal or state tax, child or spousal support debts, or student loans, your own refund can be delayed.

Fill out Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation, to resolve the situation but note that it can take two and a half months to process.

6. Death of a Spouse

If your spouse has passed away before filing your tax refund and he or she is due a refund, your refund may be delayed if you failed to file IRS Form 1310, (Statement of a Person Claiming Refund Due to a Deceased Taxpayer).

The IRS asks that you do not contact them in an effort to get your refund faster. They recommend you use their Check My Refund Status tool to track it yourself.

Every 24 hours, the site is updated, usually in the evening.

You can start checking it 24 hours after e-filing or 4 weeks after it is mailed in. Putting in some personal information will let you know if it’s been approved, and when it’s been sent.

The IRS may need some additional information at times. If they do, they will get in touch with you, usually by mail.

Remember, the IRS never sends emails, nor will they ever reach you by phone. There are a number of tax scams that will target unsuspecting people this way.

7. You Left Something Out

Sending in an incomplete return can significantly delay the receipt of your tax refund.

For instance, if you use paper forms to file your taxes, failing to sign them or omitting any of your personal information, such as your full name or Social Security number, are guaranteed to put the brakes on your refund.

If you have to forward additional information or paperwork to the IRS, it could add weeks or even months onto the processing time.

E-filing can eliminate some of the room for error but it's not foolproof, especially if you have a more complicated return.

Forgetting to include income information from a 1099, for example, can be problematic since the IRS will already have a copy on file.

If the information you've provided doesn't match up with what the IRS has because you overlooked it, they may decide to take a closer look at your return, which would result in a delay of your refund.

8. You Defaulted on a Debt

If you default on an unpaid credit card bill, your creditor can take you to court to collect but when you're in debt to a government agency, they have a much more direct measure for recouping what's owed.

If you've gotten behind on your student loans, have a past-due tax bill or you're in arrears for a state-issued child support order, these are all grounds for having your refund offset.

When your refund is set to be seized, you'll receive a notice from the Treasury Department detailing your original refund amount, the amount of the offset and contact information for the agency that's receiving the payment.

If you don't think you owe the debt or you want to dispute the amount that was offset, you'll have to take it up with the agency that laid claim to your refund.

Tip: In addition to losing your tax refund, you may also be subject to wage garnishment if you default on student loans that are backed by the federal government.

9. You Entered the Wrong Bank Account Info

Having your refund deposited directly into your bank account cuts down on the time it takes to get the money since paper checks take longer to be issued but you have to be careful about entering the correct numbers.

Making even a simple mistake can spell disaster for the status of your refund.

How much longer it'll take to get the money depends on the nature of the error. For example, if you leave off a digit of your routing number, the deposit wouldn't pass the IRS's validation check. In that situation, you'd be issued a paper check instead.

If you enter the correct routing number but your account number is wrong, it can go one of two ways.

First, your bank could reject the deposit which means it would go back to the IRS and you'd have to wait until a paper check is sent out.

In the second scenario, the bank could deposit the money into the wrong account.

At that point, the IRS assumes no further responsibility and you'd have to take it up with the bank to get your refund back.

10. You Amended Your Return

In some situations, it may be necessary to amend your tax return after it's been filed. Some reasons why an amendment may be necessary include:

  • You've received a corrected W-2 or 1099
  • You've realized that you made an error in claiming a deduction or dependent
  • You need to change your filing status

If you have to make changes to your return and you're expecting a refund, whether or not you'll be waiting longer depends on if you're going to get more money back.

When you're due a larger refund, amending your return can add 12 to 16 weeks to the processing time.

11. You Claimed the Earned Income Credit

The Earned Income Credit (EIC) is a refundable tax credit that's designed to benefit low to moderate-income workers and their families.

Claiming the credit can reduce the amount of tax you owe and increase your refund.

While you shouldn't shy away from claiming the credit if you're eligible, you should be aware that it may take longer to get your refund if you do.

Due to the high number of taxpayers who fraudulently claim the EIC, the IRS pays special attention to returns that include it.

If you're claiming it for the first time or you're getting a much bigger credit than you have in previous years, the IRS will want to make sure that all the information you've provided is correct before releasing your refund.

Tip: If you're owed a refund, you have three years from the filing deadline to get your return in. If you don't claim the money before the window closes, Uncle Sam gets to keep it.

12. You Claimed the Additional Child Tax Credit

The Additional Child Tax Credit is another refundable tax credit that could help anyone who qualifies for the regular Child Tax Credit and has earned income of at least $3,000.

It's another tax credit that is being claimed fraudulently.

Other Reasons for a Delay

If you're certain that you've completed your taxes correctly, your tax refund delay could just be due to the fact that the IRS has cut back its workforce in recent years.

Even though refunds may take a little longer for some taxpayers, the number of audits is expected to go down.

If you've filed by snail mail in the past, consider filing electronically in the future.

Filing electronically will halve the time it takes for you to receive your tax refund -- because the IRS receives your return faster, they’ll start processing sooner.

Finally,  as the golden rule goes for anything:

The earlier, the better.

To increase your chances of getting your tax refund quicker, file as soon as possible.

If you are still unsure where your refund is, contact the IRS Tax Help Line for Individuals - 1-800-829-1040 (TTY/TDD 1-800-829-4059).