"Where’s My Refund?" v. 2.0

Even with all the shenanigans this year* the IRS decided to upgrade the “Where’s My Refund?” tool that taxpayers often use to track the status of their federal income tax refund and promised that refund processing times will not be adversely affected.  In previous years Where’s My Refund? (“WMR?”) generated an estimated refund receipt date for you based on the fact that 90% of all refunds are processed and delivered within 21 days of the date that you file (assuming you file electronically, which almost everybody does these days).

This year, the IRS claims that “WMR?” will be able to ascertain an “actual personalized refund date.”  Now I’m not sure exactly what this means.  Is it personalized in the sense that it records the date that your return was processed and then adds 21 days, or is the tool more sophisticated than that?

The new version of “WMR?” breaks your refund progress down into three stages (available as soon as 24 hours after you e-file your return):

  1. Return Received
  2. Refund Approved
  3. Refund Sent

There is no information from the IRS about what happens when they encounter problems in the processing of a return.  For instance, if mistakes are found on the return and a refund is not approved, will “WMR?” inform the taxpayer of the hiccup, will it remain stuck on the “Return Received” stage, or will the tool simply stop working?

Here are some “WMR?” tips from the IRS:

  • Don’t try using it before January 30th, even if you’ve already filed.  It won’t work until the 30th.
  • Don’t call.  The IRS claims “WMR?” provides the most complete and up-to-date information about your refund claim and if you call to ask a customer service rep, they will be able to tell you no more than what you already know.  As a tax attorney who is on the phone with the IRS every day, I can certainly vouch for that!
  • Don’t check more than once a day.  Information in the “WMR?” tool is updated overnight and only once every 24 hours, so checking in every couple hours will only slow things down for everyone else.

*It is bold of the IRS to promise more precise refund tracking given the fact that (1) they have spent so much effort integrating the “fiscal cliff” legislation that recently passed and things could still be “buggy;” (2) they have been beefing up security filters that are meant to minimize refund fraud and admit that this will cause some refunds to be delayed; and (3) hundreds of thousands of taxpayers will potentially hire incompetent, unregistered (*Gasp*) return preparers this year due to their return preparer registration program being shot to pieces by a federal judge in D.C.

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