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When will you get your tax refund? Whenever

The first question every taxpayer asks is, "How much is my refund?"

The second question every taxpayer asks is, "When will I get it?"

The official Internal Revenue Service response is generally in less than 21 calendar days after the agency receives it.

In many cases, refunds show up sooner, especially if you've e-filed your tax return and have asked that your refund be directly deposited.

But if you insist on filing a paper return via snail mail, expect your refund, regardless of whether its sent to you electronically or by the U.S. Postal Service, to arrive at the end of that three-week delivery period.

Fuzzy delivery dates: The IRS used to be more precise in its estimation of when to expect a tax refund. In prior tax seasons you could check out the agency's refund cycle chart.

This document, officially known as IRS Publication 2043, broke out expected refunds based on two-to-three day periods in which the agency received your 1040 (or 1040A or 1040EZ). But last year's refund delivery table has not been updated.

Refund cycle chart discontinued in 2013

The reason it's been ditched in 2013? Because last year's refund chart became an albatross around the IRS' neck.

If you remember, and no doubt you do if you had problems getting your refund last year, the IRS had some problems with meeting the projected refund delivery dates on that document.

The major problem with processing returns and issuing refunds last filing season was that the IRS was trying to protect us from tax-related identity theft and refund fraud. Anti-fraud filters the agency installed last year backed up the whole process.

Guess what? Tax fraud is still a problem. The IRS is once again making anti-tax fraud efforts a priority. So expect the same sort of slowdown this year.

Plus, the agency is still trying to catch up on form updates and computer program upgrades necessitated by late Congressional action on laws in the fiscal cliff bill that affect 2012 returns.

So you can be frustrated, but you need to take a breath. It's not all the IRS' fault. Most of the blame belongs to Congress.

And it's definitely not your tax preparer's fault that your refund is slow in arriving.

Tracking down your tax refund: As today's Daily Tax Tip notes, you can check out your refund's status by using the IRS' Where's My Refund? online search tool.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Don't go looking for information until 24 hours after the IRS has accepted your e-filed tax return or four weeks after you mail your paper return. Note the term "accepted." There's a bit of a lag time between when you submit your electronic filing and when the IRS says, "Yeah, we got it." So make sure you wait for a day after the IRS acknowledges it received your data.
  • Have your Social Security number, filing status and exact refund amount handy. You'll need this information to check your refund's status.

Once you go to the Where's My Refund? page, you'll find a tracker that displays progress through three tax processing stages:

  1. Return Received,
  2. Refund Approved and
  3. Refund Sent. Yay! (That ebullient editorial comment is from me, not the IRS, although I'm sure the agency is glad every time it can mark another tax return as done.)

And when you get to the "refund approved" stage, you'll finally get a projected refund delivery date.

So hang in there.

And just keep telling yourself, good things come to those who wait.

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Wow, really, just whenever? I can't believe this but if it is, this is such a very good news to everyone who does not know that they can have their income tax refund whenever they want.


Kelly, if the state tax is income tax, no. But if it's state ordered child support, the IRS does have a program in which this type of debt is offset by federal refund money.


Can owing state money delay your federal refund?

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