When tax season gets underway, you may be eagerly anticipating a refund. As of November 22, 2019, the IRS had processed more than 155 million tax returns for the current tax year, issuing 111,596,000 refunds, with an average refund amount of $2,860.
However, you may be one of those people asking themselves, "Where's my refund?" if you don't receive yours within a reasonable amount of time after filing your return. While you can check the status of your federal tax refund using the Where’s My Refund? tool, the system doesn't offer detailed explanations of why your money may be delayed.
- The reasons you haven't gotten your tax refund might include your return has inaccurate information or was incomplete.
- You’re a victim of tax fraud, or your refund was sent to the wrong bank.
- You amended your return, or you claimed certain tax credits.
- Your refund has been offset to pay a debt.
7 Reasons for a Late Tax Refund
There are a number of things that can hold up the processing of your tax refund. Here are some of the most common reasons for a delay.
1. Your Return Includes Inaccurate Information
If your tax return contained numerical errors or other mistakes, that can slow down the pace of your refund. When an error is detected, your return is earmarked for human review, meaning an IRS employee must comb through it to find the mistake. That can add days or weeks to the processing time.
2. Your Return Was Incomplete
Having an incomplete return can also trigger an IRS review, which could mean a longer wait for your refund. If you filed a paper return, for example, and forgot to enter in a key piece of information such as your Social Security number, or you didn’t sign your tax forms, the IRS wouldn’t be able to process your return until those items are checked off.
3. You’re a Victim of Tax Fraud
Tax fraud occurs when someone uses your personal information to file a fraudulent tax return and claim a refund in your name. For the 2019 tax-filing season, the IRS identified approximately $15.8 million in fraudulent refund claims, with more than 3,700 fraudulent returns being associated with identity theft. If you think you’re a victim of tax-related identity theft, you’re encouraged to contact the IRS and the Federal Trade Commission to report fraud.
4. Your Refund Was Sent to the Wrong Bank
Filing your return electronically is the fastest way to get your refund if you’re using direct deposit. That assumes, however, that you plugged in the right numbers for your bank account. If you transposed a digit in the routing or account number your money could be sent to someone else's account.
If your refund does indeed end up in someone else's bank account, you'll have to work with the bank directly to get it back. The IRS can't and won't compel the bank to return your money to you.
5. You Claimed Certain Tax Credits
Tax credits reduce your tax liability on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Certain tax credits, including the Earned Income Credit and the Additional Child Tax Credit, often draw scrutiny from the IRS due to taxpayers claiming these credits fraudulently. If you claimed either credit, that could be the reason why your refund hasn't arrived yet.
6. You Amended Your Return
Amending your tax return can also create a delay. Amended returns must be mailed, rather than filed electronically. When you amend a return, it can take up to three weeks for it to show up in the IRS system, and another 16 weeks to be processed, meaning you may be waiting several months for your refund.
7. Your Refund Has Been Offset to Pay a Debt
If you owe certain debts, including unpaid child support, unpaid state taxes, or federal student loans, the IRS can offset your refund by the balance owed. If your refund is offset, you’ll receive a notice from the Bureau of Fiscal Services advising you why your refund was taken and which agency the debt was owed to. You have the right to dispute the debt with the agency that received your refund.
The number of tax refunds issued in 2019, by Nov. 22, 2019.
Check the Timing
It's also possible that your tax refund could be delayed if you filed your return too early or waited until the last minute. If you tried to file in January, for example, a last-minute change to the tax code could have triggered an error on your return that slowed down its processing. Similarly, waiting until the very last minute to get your return in can mean a longer wait for your refund if the IRS is attempting to process larger than usual volume of tax filings.
Also, keep in mind that filing a paper return can also slow things down. The fastest way to file—and to get your refund—is to file electronically online.
The Bottom Line
These are the most common reasons for a delayed refund. A refund could also be late if it’s lost in the mail. Having your refund stolen from your mailbox is another possibility. And a government shutdown, such as the kind that took place in January 2019, could also result in a longer wait for your return to be processed and your refund sent. If the Where’s My Refund? tool isn’t offering any answers, you can turn to your local IRS office for help. The IRS may be able to trace your refund to find out what’s happened to it and issue a replacement check if needed.