Tax season is drawing to a close but if you haven’t gotten your refund yet, you may be wondering what the hold up is. Previously, we wrote about 7 reasons why you haven’t received your tax refund yet — here are five more possible reasons behind your tax refund delay.  

According to the IRS, most tax refunds are processed within 21 days.  Image via Shutterstock
According to the IRS, most tax refunds are processed within 21 days.
Image via Shutterstock

Taxpayers who are expecting a refund are getting more than $3,000 back on average this year, which can certainly come in handy if you’re planning on using it to pay off debt or add to your retirement savings.

Waiting for the money to hit your account can be nerve-wracking, especially if it’s been several weeks since you filed your return.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. You entered the wrong bank account information

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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

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. Budget cuts have resulted in the agency shrinking its staff but there is a bright side. Even though refunds may take a little longer for some taxpayers, the number of audits is expected to go down.

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  • Claudia

    Rebecca – great article! Very neatly laid out with plenty of resourceful examples. #3 is definitely a biggie, and probably the easiest to avoid.

    If you ever need a resource on taxes or accounting, let me know! I work for Shoeboxed and we work with a lot of small businesses, tax experts, and CPA’s who I’d be happy to put you in touch with if you ever need a contact.


    Claudia, Shoeboxed

    • Rebecca

      Hi Claudia,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article and you’re right about #3, that happens more often than you’d think. It’s always great to get expert insight, especially when it comes to tax issues so I’ll definitely keep your offer in mind.

      Thanks again!


  • Howard Sands

    Hello Ms Lake. I’m pretty much at my wits end. I filed my return on January 27. People who have filed after me have received their refund. And my return is as simple as it gets. None of the reasons that you’ve outlined apply. Whenever I check the status online, I get a message that its still processing. I saw on one website a phone # to call if I want to talk to someone, but all I get is an automated system that gives me the same info as I get online. Do you have any advice for me? I’m really counting on this refund. Its very frustrating not knowing when – or if – I will be receiving this.

    • Rebecca

      Hi Howard,

      I’m sorry you’re having trouble pinning down where your refund is. If none of the scenarios I’ve outlined apply to your situation, there are a couple of different things that could be holding it up. Simple math errors are usually the biggest culprit but there’s also the possibility that your return was flagged for another reason. For example, if someone attempted to steal your identity or the IRS received an additional tax form that wasn’t included on your original return it might require a second look. If you requested a paper check instead of direct deposit, that may slow down your refund too.

      There’s also the possibility that the IRS needs more information from you to finish processing the refund. In that situation, they’d send out a form asking for whatever documentation they need but if you’ve moved recently, it could have gotten lost in the mail.

      If you’re not having any luck getting someone on the phone, you may need to see if there’s an IRS Taxpayer Assistance office in your local area. You can find the nearest one using the locator tool here:

      I’m not sure which number you’ve tried to call but the IRS advises anyone who hasn’t received their refund within 12 weeks to contact them at (800) 829-1040. If all else fails, you can try enlisting the help of your state taxpayer advocate’s office. Here’s the link to find one in your local area:
      I hope this helps and feel free to keep us updated with the status of your refund, which could be helpful to other readers who are facing the same problem.

      • Howard Sands

        Thank you very much for your reply. In fact, I was a victim of Identity Theft two years ago. it took a year to get my refund. But last year’s return went thru without a hitch. I will call the number you listed above.

        • Dave

          I too was a victim of identity theft for 3years in a row they did the taxes before me and I didn’t get anything for 4 years it was the worse experience last year I got my tax right away this year I’m in the same boat again I can’t get a hold of anyone I had to send by mail and I sent it back on feb 18 and still says processing now I had identity theft in California where someone claimed unemployment and I just found out recently becuz I got a letter in the mail months ago that if I don’t pay he debt back my taxes might be taken so it’s been a nightmare and I need this money otherwise I might become homeless if I can’t make the money I need another way I’m so stressed out over it this is why people do bad things becuz bad people get away with it and good people have to pay

          • Hi Dave, I’m so sorry to hear you’ve been a victim of identity theft. Have you put measures in place to ensure your accounts are flagged immediately if someone tries to do anything in your name, i.e. open a new credit card?

            If you file a police report, you can go to any of the major credit bureaus and they will monitor your accounts for free for 5 years, I believe. Gather up all of your documents that show you’ve been a victim of fraud and mail it to the IRS. Also, even if you have to pay out of pocket for taxes the IRS believes you owe, once the situation is resolved, the IRS should give this money back to you. I hope that helps you.

    • Devera

      Call the irs identity theft line 18009084490…the same situation is going on with me and they aren’t giving me any answers

    • mr.buddha.420

      You might consider a Tax Payer Advocate service. I was having this same problem 2 years ago and I finally called the service and they were able to get my refund within 10 days!

      • How much did it cost for a service like this (if there were any fees involved)?

      • Howard Sands

        Thanks. I have received my refund a little over a week ago.
        Unfortunately, Its almost all gone already.

  • Matt James Horobin

    I filed February 25th 2015 and I am still waiting on my tax return. On the 10th of March I received a letter from the IRS telling me to wait 60 days after waiting 111 days and several missed attempts to get ahold of anyone at the Irs an )actual person) they told me that the department is holding my refund for a reason and I would have to wait another 30 days 30 days later I received a letter in the mail telling me to wait another 30 days and there was nothing I could do to help the with it. I have still not received my tax return to this day vii of September 2015