When You Should (and Shouldn’t) Worry if Your Tax Refund Is Delayed

In an ordinary year, most people receive their tax refunds within 21 days of filing electronically. But the past couple of years have been anything but ordinary, as the IRS has grappled with a backlog of paper tax returns during the pandemic and complications from last-minute changes to tax laws in 2020. The start of last year’s tax-filing season was delayed until mid-February.

This year, the IRS began accepting tax returns on a more typical schedule on Jan. 24. But IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig warned taxpayers to take special care when filing in 2022 to avoid experiencing processing delays similar to those seen in previous years, saying the IRS is “facing enormous challenges related to the pandemic” and acknowledging taxpayers’ frustrations.

Rettig told Congress that barring any unforeseen circumstances the backlog should be cleared up by the end of the year. You can take extra steps to try to keep your return out of the backlog, such as by filing an electronic return, checking for errors and making sure to report the correct amounts for the recovery rebate credit and child tax credit.

If you’re waiting for your tax refund, here’s what to know.

[Read: How to Find a Reputable Tax Preparer Near You]

How Long Does It Take to Receive Your Refund?

If you file electronically with direct deposit into your bank account, you’ll usually get your refund within 21 days if there aren’t any issues with your return. If you e-file but request a paper check, it usually takes about a month to receive your refund.

That time frame can expand significantly if you file a paper return or if the information in your return doesn’t pass through the IRS’ electronic filters — if, for example, the income you reported doesn’t match up with the W-2s or 1099s the IRS received for you or if there are mistakes on your return.

“Anything that requires the IRS to manually look at that return is going to create a delay,” says Melanie Lauridsen, senior manager of tax policy and advocacy for the American Institute of CPAs. “The current delay feels worse than it had in the past.”

Your refund may also be delayed this year if your tax return from last year is still tied up in the IRS’ backlog, says Lauridsen. “You can’t clear this current year’s tax return until the prior year’s tax return is cleared, and you don’t know where in the pile you are,” she says. “You could have a very long delay for a very simple return.”

How to Check the Status of Your Refund

You can use the IRS’ Where’s My Refund? tool to check the status of your refund within 24 hours of e-filing. If you filed a paper return, you may not be able to check on the status until four weeks after filing or later. Input your Social Security number, your filing status and the exact dollar amount of the refund from your tax return. The tool will let you know if your return has been received, if the refund has been approved or if the refund has been sent. The IRS updates the information daily.

Below are some of the reasons why your payment may be delayed and what you can do about it.

Why Is Your Refund Delayed?

Your refund may be delayed for several reasons. In some cases, you’ll just get the money later than expected. In others, the IRS may send you a letter asking for additional information before it can finish processing your return and send your refund. Remember: The IRS will never call you if it has issues with your return — that’s usually a scam — but will send you a letter instead.

If you do receive a letter from the IRS about your return, take action right away. “Once you’ve confirmed that it’s legit, you should definitely respond in the manner requested in the letter,” says Kathy Pickering, H&R Block chief tax officer. “If you don’t respond, the IRS is most likely not going to release your refund or complete the processing of your tax return as expected.”

Here are some reasons why your refund may be delayed:

Errors on Your Return

Your refund may be delayed if you made math errors or if you forgot to sign your return or include your Social Security number. It may also be delayed if your dependents’ information doesn’t match IRS records, or if you left out a corresponding schedule or form to support a deduction or credit, says Pickering.

For small math errors, the IRS may correct the error and send you a notice of the change. For larger issues, you may need to respond to an IRS request for more information.

Also be sure to answer “yes” or “no” to the question on page one of Form 1040 regarding virtual currency, says Barbara Weltman, author of “J.K. Lasser’s 1001 Deductions & Tax Breaks 2022.” She says leaving the space blank will delay processing.

[READ: Legal Secrets to Reducing Your Taxes]

Reported Income Doesn’t Match IRS Records

When you receive W-2s or 1099s reporting income, the IRS gets copies, too. If the numbers you report and the information the IRS receives don’t match up, your refund may be delayed while the IRS figures out how to reconcile the discrepancy.

“If data on your tax return doesn’t match data in the IRS systems, it goes to the error resolution path,” says Mark Steber, chief tax information office for Jackson Hewitt Tax Service. Make sure you don’t leave out any income when you file your return, especially if you have several side gigs.

Two common sources of errors this year: stimulus payments and child tax credits. Make sure to report any stimulus payments received in 2021, which you can find in IRS Letter 6475 Your Third Economic Impact Payment.

“This year the checks were received early in 2021, or automatically deposited, so they may have forgotten about them at tax time,” says Susan Carlisle, a CPA in Los Angeles. “Also, many parents received monthly child tax credit checks for the first time in 2021, so they did not know they needed to report them, too.” You should receive IRS Letter 6419 2021 Advance Child Tax Credit reporting the amount of child credit received so far in 2021. You can also verify these amounts online at IRS.gov.

Your refund can also be delayed this year if you received an advance premium tax credit (premium subsidy) when buying health insurance on Healthcare.gov or your state Marketplace but didn’t file Form 8962 reconciling the credit with any advance payments you received, says Weltman.

Direct Deposit Accounts Don’t Match Up

Your refund may be delayed if you chose direct deposit but the ownership of the bank account doesn’t match up with the filing status on the return — such as if you have the refund deposited into an account for one spouse when the return was filed jointly, says Weltman. In that case, the refund may be delayed and the IRS may send a paper check.

The IRS Suspects Identity Theft or Fraud

“The IRS identity theft filters sometimes delay returns and tax refunds until taxpayers verify their identities,” says Pickering. “You’ll likely need to provide the IRS Taxpayer Protection Program unit with information from last year’s return, your current year return and your current year Forms W-2 and 1099.”

[READ:How to Get the Biggest Tax Refund in 2022]

Double Dipping on Dependents

Since it’s easy to use tax-filing software, some young adults filed their own tax returns and didn’t coordinate with their parents’ return, says Carlisle.

“Many kids realized they could do their own taxes online themselves, so they took their own exemption,” she says. If their parents took them as dependents, too, you can’t do both. “So refunds are stopped until it’s figured out and someone has to file an amended return,” she says.

You Need to File an Old Return

“When the IRS pursues back tax returns, the IRS can freeze any refunds you may be due until you file the old return,” says Pickering. “The only way to fix this issue and get your refund is to file the past-due return. If you owe taxes on the old return, the IRS will take the amount out of your current year refund.”

You Mailed Your Return

It always takes longer for the IRS to process paper returns — especially now. “If you file a paper return, it’s going to go in that backlog file,” says Lauridsen.

It can take even longer if there are errors or inconsistencies on the paper return. “When taxpayers e-file their return, the e-file process catches many return errors and rejects the returns at the time of filing,” says Pickering. “If you mail your return instead of e-filing it, the IRS is more likely to identify an error after the fact.”

More from U.S. News

Red Flags That Could Trigger a Tax Audit

Major State Tax Changes You Might Have Missed

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When You Should (and Shouldn’t) Worry if Your Tax Refund Is Delayed originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 04/06/22: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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