By the time you read this article, you should have that interest free loan that you gave to Uncle Sam returned to you via your federal tax refund. This assumes that you filed your tax return on time, and that you exercised savvy tax planning so that you didn’t incur a tax debt. So have you already spent your refund, or are you still waiting for the money you’ve already earmarked for that desired frill?
According to the IRS, they generally issue refunds within 21 calendar days of receiving your tax return. This is, of course, if you E-File your tax return and disclose your banking information for purposes of direct deposit. If you snail mail a paper return and want a check or savings bond snail mailed back to you, your refund should arrive in about six to eight weeks.
Should you have received your refund already? Still waiting? You may want to use the IRS’ where’s my refund tool available online at www.irs.gov or as a smartphone application. If you are still left wondering where your money is, like many have been this tax season, a systematic approach may help you alleviate your anxiety if you think you should have already received your refund.
Step 1: Were there basic errors on your tax return?
The first question you need to answer is whether you made an error on the face of your tax return. This includes, for example, using the wrong social security number, making computation mistakes, checking wrong or multiple boxes, failing to sign your return, or pay for postage. Any of these seemingly simple tasks results in common errors which will likely cause an error in the initial processing of your tax return and a delay in issuing your refund. So double check your tax return before sending it, and if you’re still waiting for your refund, maybe check the copy of your tax return (you did save a copy your return, right?) and see if there is some basic error that needs to be corrected.
Step 2: Do you owe the government?
So you reviewed your tax return and confirmed that you made no errors on the face of the tax return. Then, the delay in receiving your refund may be more problematic. I receive calls every year from people who owe the government taxes or some other type of debt and are wondering why they didn’t receive their refund that they had already earmarked for some necessary expense. Unfortunately, the federal government, like any other creditor, isn’t going to give your money back when a debt is owed. If you owe the government, it’s almost certain that your refund was applied to your debt in the best interest of the government.
Step 3: Was your tax return more complex?
So you’re certain that you don’t owe the federal government any money and that you made no errors on your tax return; then what are the other reasons that your refund may be delayed? A refund may also be delayed if you use an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, amend a tax return, or claim specific tax credits that need to be manually reviewed like the adoption tax credit, for example. Or, maybe the IRS is examining/auditing or disputing some item(s) on your tax return. The latter is usually not the normal operating procedure for delaying a refund as the refund is normally issued, and then months later an audit notification is sent, then informing you that your tax return is being audited. However, it is always a possibility especially if you are using novel accounting practices or extreme red flag expenditures.
Step 4: Have you moved recently?
The IRS will mail to you notifications regarding delays, examinations, or other problems in issuing your refund. If you recently moved, you may not be receiving notification from the IRS explaining what actions are being taken on your account causing your refund to not be timely issued. Therefore, you or your authorized representative may need to contact the IRS to determine why your tax refund has been delayed. This is the case even if you did not move and you have not received an explanation for the delay.
Lastly, the government is back-logged and does make mistakes; this is always a consideration when waiting for a refund check that doesn’t come. This basic approach will hopefully help you determine when it’s time to contact the IRS for clarification or seek professional assistance in obtaining that tax refund that you’ve already counted on to get through the month.