Key Terms

Income Tax Refund Delivery

If the IRS owes you money after you file your federal income tax return, you will receive an income tax refund.

How can I get my tax refund?

Taxpayers have several options for receiving their individual federal income tax refund, including:

  • Direct deposit – Whether you file by paper or electronically, you can request the IRS direct deposit your refund. If you file by paper, the IRS generally will direct deposit your refund into your account at a U.S. financial institution within four to six weeks. If you file electronically, the IRS generally will deposit your refund into your account within two weeks.

Note: It is extremely important to enter the correct nine-digit routing number and the account number when selecting the direct deposit option. If the numbers do not pass the IRS validation check, the IRS will mail you a paper check. In addition, the account must be in your name. Some financial institutions (banks) do not allow a joint refund to be deposited into an individual account, so if you are married and filed your return with the status married filing jointly, you should check with your bank to ensure your direct deposit will be accepted.

  • Paper check – You can request the IRS mail a paper check. If you file by mailing a paper tax return, the IRS generally will issue your refund check within six weeks from the date the IRS receives your return. If you file the return electronically, the IRS generally will issue your refund check within three weeks after the acknowledgement date.
  • Savings bonds – When you file your tax return, you will be able to convert part (or all) of your income tax refund into Series I Savings Bonds. The maximum amount you can convert into savings bonds is $5,000. You must use the direct deposit option for claiming your refund.
  • Split refunds – You can also “split” your refund in up to three accounts. For more information on split refunds, see the section below titled “What is a split refund?
  • Other bank products – If you file electronically, your tax preparer or tax preparation and filing software may suggest you purchase a bank product which typically sets up a temporary bank account to receive your income tax refund. Such bank products include, but are not limited to, refund anticipation loans (RALs), refund anticipation checks (RACs), gift cards and debit cards. Before purchasing a bank product, it is important to understand the fees associated with these products and determine whether paying the fees is worth receiving the refund just a few days sooner.

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What is a refund anticipation loan?

A refund anticipation loan (RAL) is a short-term loan based on your anticipated income tax refund. With a RAL, you borrow against all or part of your expected refund and are responsible for paying the loan in full, even if the IRS does not release your entire expected refund amount.

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What is a split refund?

If you choose to direct deposit your refund into your account, you have the option to “split” your refund among up to three accounts (checking and savings accounts) held by as many as three different U.S. financial institutions, such as banks, mutual funds, brokerage firms or credit unions. You can also have part of your refund issued as Series I Savings Bonds.

If only a portion of your refund is being requested in savings bonds or you wish to split a refund, you must use Form 8888, Direct Deposit of Refund to More Than One Account.

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How can I check the status of my tax refund?

You can check the status of a refund four weeks after the date of filing a paper return, or 72 hours after filing an electronic return. Both automated systems require you to enter your Social Security number, filing status and exact whole dollar amount of your refund shown on the return. If you do not receive your refund within 28 days from the original IRS mailing date shown on Where’s My Refund, you can initiate a refund trace online. The IRS has recently released an update to the IRS2Go app

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What If I have a question about the amount of my refund?

Several factors could change the amount of a tax refund:

  • Math errors are one of the leading mistakes on returns and the correction of the mistake can either increase or decrease the expected refund.
  • In addition, if you owe other debts to the federal government or to a state government, the IRS must apply your refund to those debts.
  • Further, the IRS may freeze the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) portion of a refund while awaiting additional information to verify eligibility to take the credit.

If you receive your refund from the IRS but have a question about the amount of your refund, you should wait two weeks before contacting the IRS. If you have not received a notice from the IRS within the two week period, you can call 1-800-829-1040. You can also check Where’s My Refund to learn general information about an adjustment made to the refund.

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