Where is My Tax Refund? Tax Problems Related to IRS Refunds

Tax Refund

If you’re looking around for your tax refund and it’s nowhere to be found, there’s probably a reason for it. Generally, the Internal Revenue Service issues refunds in a timely manner, but yours might take longer if there’s any reason for the IRS to look into your return in more detail. 

For instance, the IRS might randomly select your tax return for an audit, which delays the refund process as your return is examined in close detail. Or maybe you claimed deductions that you weren’t eligible for, causing the IRS to amend your return, which takes time.

There are plenty of other factors that affect how quickly you get your tax refund back from the IRS. Maybe you guesstimated an income total, and it didn’t match up with your W-2, or perhaps you filed a paper return — those take notoriously long to process. 

Don’t worry if you haven’t seen your refund land in your bank account yet. We’ll guide you through the refund processing period and help you understand why your return may have been subjected to extended processing.

How Long Is the IRS Standard Refund Processing Time?

The standard processing time for refunds from the IRS is 21 days. According to the IRS, nine out of 10 tax refunds are processed in 21 days or less. That time may be extended indefinitely if your return requires additional attention, such as an audit or review.  If the IRS needs extra time to process your refund, they may mark your account with Tax Topic 152.

The IRS's Where’s My Refund? tracker is the best way to see exactly how long until your refund gets mailed or is deposited into your bank account. It shows you the current status of your refund in processing as follows: 

  • Return received
  • Return approved
  • Refund sent

When the status of Where’s My Refund? changes to “Refund approved,” you’ll be able to see an actual refund date. To check the status of your refund, you need your social security number, filing status (single, married filing jointly, etc), and the amount of your refund.

Why is My Refund Taking So Long?

There’s one big reason that tax refunds take so long: The IRS needed to take the time to manually look at your return instead of passing it through the electronic filters. 

That can happen for a number of reasons, including the following:

  • You filed a paper return, which can take 4 weeks to process (or longer, depending on mail transit).
  • Your reported income doesn’t match your W-2s or 1099s.
  • An audit finds mistakes or missing information on your returns.
  • You’re subject to a refund offset, which applies your refund to a delinquent debt.
  • You claim a tax credit that requires verification, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or the Child Tax Credit (CTC), both of which can take 120 days to process. 
  • You filed a Form 8379 Injured Spouse Allocation, which can take 14 weeks to process. 
  • You amended your return, which can take up to 16 weeks to process. 

Then there are third-party reasons that could make your refund late. For instance, your check could be lost in the mail, or a bank transfer might be delayed in posting. 

Rarely, a tax return may be lost in processing. If you’re waiting on a refund from a return that you filed over 6 months ago and Where’s My Refund shows that the return hasn’t been received, submit the same return again and double-check that it’s been received. 

Finally, a refund could be late because the IRS suspects that there’s fraud or identity theft involved in your return. Don’t worry – if you didn’t commit fraud, the IRS has no reason to suspect it. The IRS sees and handles millions of human errors each year. 

How Do You Use “Where is My Refund?” 

Using Where’s My Refund? is simple. All you need to do is submit your Social Security Number (SSN) or Taxpayer ID Number (TIN), your filing status, and the exact refund amount listed on your return. 

Then the website will show you the current status of the return, which can be:

  • Return received: The IRS has received your return and is reviewing and processing it. 
  • Return approved: Your return has been accepted, and your refund will soon be on its way – yay! 
  • Refund sent: The IRS has sent your refund via check or bank transfer; check and see if you’ve received it. 

If you don't receive your refund after it says sent, contact the IRS directly. Or wait six months and then request a refund trace. 

When Does “Where is My Refund” Get Updated? 

Where’s My Refund gets updated once per day. Checking the website daily should always get you the most current result. 

How Soon Can You Use “Where is My Refund?”

You can use Where’s My Refund? within 24 hours of filing online for the current tax year. For past tax years, you should check three or four days after you file. If you file by mail, your return might take up to four weeks to appear on Where’s My Refund?


What Are the “Where is My Refund” Response Code Meanings?

An IRS response code can tell you a lot about where your refund is, but the codes are cryptic if you don’t know what they mean. Here are the meanings of each response code:

  • 1001: The IRS mailed your paper check over four weeks ago.
  • 1021: Part of the refund was offset, and your check was mailed over four weeks ago. 
  • 1061: Part of the refund was offset, and your refund was sent via direct deposit over one week ago.
  • 1081: Part or all of the refund was offset, and your check was mailed over four weeks ago. 
  • 1091: Part of all of the refund was offset, and your refund was sent by direct deposit more than one week ago.
  • 1101: There’s no data available on your return, which was filed on paper over six weeks ago.
  • 1102: There’s no data available on your return, and you filed electronically over three weeks ago. 
  • 1121: A problem was identified, most likely a typo on the return.
  • 1141: Your refund was delayed because you owe a government entity a debt. 
  • 1161: Your refund was delayed due to a bankruptcy. 
  • 1181: Your refund was delayed and pulled for review, not within seven cycles conduct analysis. 
  • 1221: Your refund was delayed and pulled for review within seven cycles conduct account analysis. 
  • 1241: Your paper return is in review and was received over six weeks ago, you will receive a notice for more information. 
  • 1242: Your electronic return is frozen and waiting for additional information; it was received more than three weeks ago.
  • 1262: Your electronic return is frozen and waiting for additional information; it was received more than three weeks ago. 
  • 1341: Your refund was delayed for a debt on another account.
  • 1361, 1381, and 1401: Your refund was withheld in part or fully to pay another tax liability. 
  • 1421: Your refund was delayed and frozen due to a bankruptcy on your account. 
  • 1441: Your refund was delayed because your tax ID number or name don’t match. 
  • 1461: Your refund check was mailed but returned as undeliverable by the United States Postal Service. 
  • 1481: Your refund was deposited electronically but returned as unpostable. 
  • 1501: Your refund was sent via direct deposit between one and two weeks ago. 
  • 1502: Your refund was sent via direct deposit more than two weeks ago.
  • 1521: Your paper return was filed over six weeks ago, and your taxpayer ID number was not valid.
  • 1522: Your electronic return was filed over three weeks ago, and your TIN was not valid. 
  • 1541: Offset overflow freeze set; offset storage is too small to hold all generated transactions. 
  • 1551: Frivolous return program has frozen your refund. 
  • 1561: You claimed fewer credits than available, excess credit freeze. 
  • 1571: Your refund was frozen because it was erroneous. 
  • 1581: A manual refund freeze with no TC 150 was initiated.
  • 2007-2009: Your refund check was returned as undeliverable, and you may have an additional liability.
  • 2015: Your savings bond request was denied due to an offset over three weeks after your refund date.
  • 2016: Your savings bond was denied because your entire refund was offset.
  • 2017: Your savings bond request was allowed more than three weeks after the refund date.
  • 5501: Your split direct deposit was partly offset over two weeks after the refund date.
  • 5510: Your split direct deposit was returned by the bank with a partial offset and the check was mailed to you. 
  • 5511: The bank returned Your split direct deposit, and a check was mailed.
  • 8001: Your paper return was filed over six weeks ago, and authentication failed.
  • 8002: Your e-return was filed over three weeks ago, and authentication failed.
  • 9001: Where’s My Refund is experiencing a system error.
  • 9022: There was a math error on your return, and direct deposit was made over a week ago.
  • 9023: There was a math error on your return, and a refund paper check was mailed over four weeks ago.
  • 9024: There was a math error on your return, and the balance due is over $50. 

In a lot of cases, you may see reference 1242 with Tax Topic 151. As indicated above, 1242 means that your e-filed return has been selected for review, and Topic 151 means that you can appeal the results of the IRS's review. 

How Do You Trace a Missing Refund? 

If Where’s My Refund says that your refund has been issued, but you haven’t received anything, you can initiate a refund trace by using the IRS's automated phone system at 800-829-1954. If you prefer to speak to a live agent, call 800-829-1040. 

The exception is if you’re married and filing jointly. If that’s the case, then you can’t use the automated system to initiate a refund trace. Instead, you must initiate a trace by mail. You can do this by downloading and filling out Form 3911 (Taxpayer Statement Regarding Refund) or contacting the IRS to request a form. 

Once you initiate the trace, it can go one of two ways:

  • They find that your refund was lost but not cashed. If this is the case, the IRS will cancel the original check or deposit and issue a new one. 
  • They find that your check was cashed or went to the wrong account (e.g., you entered the wrong account number for direct deposit). If your check was cashed or deposited at the wrong place, the IRS will send you a claim package from the Bureau of Fiscal Service (BFS). You’ll need to follow the directions closely and then return the paperwork. It can take up to 6 weeks for a BFS review to be completed. 

Can a Refund Be Lost or Stolen? 

Yes, a tax refund can be lost or stolen. It’s possible that the IRS could deposit your check into the wrong account if you make a mistake when providing your routing and account numbers. 

When you file your return and include bank information to receive your refund, it’s very important to double-check all routing and account numbers to ensure that they’re absolutely correct. Similarly, if you’re receiving a paper check, make sure you double-check the mailing address and contact information that you provide.

Major Tax Refund Problems

It’s always important to reach out to the IRS as soon as you discover that you have a major tax refund problem. The first sign that there’s an issue with your refund is that your refund doesn’t arrive on time, or you might receive a letter from the IRS notifying you that your refund will be withheld. These major problems require immediate action on your part. Here's an overview of the main refund problems to help you out.

Incorrectly Calculated Refund

If it’s six months later and you’re still waiting to receive a refund, it’s possible that there were miscalculations on your return. The IRS should contact you with a notice letting you know that your refund has been reassessed and your taxes due or refund due have been adjusted. 

If that’s the case, you don’t have to take any action unless the letter from the IRS directs you to. The IRS has already adjusted your tax return, so you don’t have to resubmit it. The notice from the IRS won’t specify how long it will take to receive your refund (if you’re still due to receive one), but you can check Where’s My Refund? to see the status and estimated delivery date. 

The situation gets a little more serious if you’ve received a tax refund that you weren’t eligible to receive. That can happen if you claim deductions you’re not eligible for, and they slip through in processing if you provided incorrect information or made major math errors. 

If you receive a tax refund that you aren’t eligible for, the IRS will send you a notice, and it’s urgent for you to respond right away. The IRS will provide you with clear instructions to arrange for re-payment immediately. If you’re eligible, the notice will offer instructions for arranging a payment plan too. Don’t wait – responding fast when you receive a notice like this is incredibly important. 

What is a Refund Offset?

A refund offset occurs when the IRS applies part or all of your tax refund to your outstanding obligation or debt. You might run into a refund offset at tax time if you have the following kinds of debts:

  • Unpaid child support
  • Delinquent or defaulted student loans
  • Unpaid income (or other) taxes 
  • Unpaid tax penalties 

You don’t have to do anything to respond if you have a refund offset, although you should make arrangements to pay your tax obligations as soon as possible. Your refunds will continue to be offset until the debt is paid in full. The IRS doesn't have to alert you before seizing your tax refund, but the agency usually sends a notice afterward. For example, the IRS may send a CP49 notice if it takes some or all of your refund to cover old tax debts.

If you are married filing jointly, and your refund is offset due to a debt of your spouse’s, you can request that the IRS return your portion of the refund. To do this, simply complete and return Form 8379. You can download this or request that the IRS send you one. 

Tax Topic 203: Reduced Refund

Tax Topic 203 is a declaration that the Bureau of the Fiscal Services is authorized by Congress and the IRS to seize a portion or the entirety of your tax refund in order to satisfy a debt. This is usually for past-due child support, taxes, and penalties, or student loans. In other words, you’ll lose part of your refund (or all of it) every tax season until your debt is satisfied. 

Injured Spouse Allocation

The Injured Spouse Allocation protects the spouses of individuals who have tax refund offsets when they are married and filing jointly. To take advantage of the Injured Spouse Allocation, you can fill out Form 8379, which you can download or request from the IRS. The IRS will provide a partial refund for the portion of the tax return belonging to the spouse.

Tax Topic 151

Tax Topic 151: Your Appeal Rights is a declaration that the IRS will try to work with you through an administrative appeals process as much as possible instead of escalating to courts or collection action. The IRS Independent Office of Appeals acts as a neutral mediator between you and the IRS if you have a disagreement with a tax decision. 

You can contact the Office of Appeals to appeal decisions about:

If you would like to appeal a tax decision, simply contact the Office of Appeals using the process detailed in the notice that you receive. The notice will let you know who to contact to request a conference with the Appeals Office. An Appeals conference is an informal meeting with an Appeals officer in which you can represent yourself or have an accountant or a lawyer represent you. You can learn more about the appeals process by reading Publication 5: Your Appeal Rights and How to Prepare a Protest if You Disagree. 

What Does it Mean When the IRS Reviews Your Refund?

When you submit your tax return, the IRS automatically processes it with a system that flags potential errors. If your tax return is flagged, then the IRS will review your refund amount and the rest of your tax amount to ensure that everything is correct. This could result in an audit, but only if the IRS determines that there are significant problems with your return. 

What Happens During an IRS Review?

An IRS review starts with a CP05 Notice, which is a letter that informs you that the IRS is taking a closer look at your return. You don’t have to respond to the CP05 Notice, it’s just there to let you know what’s happening with your return. In some cases, you may receive IRS Letter 4464C when the agency is reviewing your tax return. 

During an IRS review, all of the following will be verified:

  • Your W-2 income
  • Your Schedule C income
  • Your tax withholding
  • Your tax credits and deductions
  • Your claims for household help

If your return is subjected to a review, then it might take up to 45 days to process. If you haven’t received a follow-up letter from the IRS by 45 days after the date of the first notice, then you should follow up with the IRS to see if it’s still processing. 

A review can lead to: 

  • An audit of up to three years of back tax returns, or six years if serious errors are found in the current year’s return
  • A determination that you owe more in taxes
  • A determination that you owe less in taxes and are due a bigger refund
  • No action taken because your tax return is in the clear 

Offset With Unfiled Returns

In some cases, if you have unfiled returns from previous years, the IRS may keep your tax refund. This happens when the agency has reason to believe that you would have owed tax during the previous years, and the IRS doesn't necessarily have to issue a substitute for return or assess tax against you to seize your refund. 

Often, when this happens, the IRS will send you Notice CP88. If you don't owe tax, you will need to prove that you weren't required to file during those years. Then, you can get your refund back. 

What if the IRS Incorrectly Offsets Your Refund?

If the IRS offsets your refund and you believe that they’ve done so in error, you can dispute it. Your next steps depend on whether it’s a federal offset (e.g., federal taxes due) or a non-federal offset (e.g., child support due).

In the case of a federal offset, you can call the IRS at 800-829-1040 to initiate an inquiry into your refund offset. 

For a non-federal offset, you must call 800-304-3107 to find out what agency received the offset. You’ll have to contact that agency directly to resolve the issue that led to the offset or request an inquiry if you don’t believe the debt is valid. 

What if My Return Contains Math Errors?

If your return contains math errors, your refund will be delayed for review. The DIF system automatically catches math errors and other discrepancies for further review. 

The IRS will adjust your refund to reflect the accurate calculations, so you might find that you owe the IRS money, that your refund is smaller than expected, or even that your refund is larger than anticipated.

What if My Return Has Mismatched Information?

The IRS’ automatic processing system can detect if your return’s information doesn’t match the data on your W-2s, 1099s, or other tax documentation. If there’s a problem with your information not matching, the IRS will review your return. 

This may lead to an audit, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. Most likely, the IRS will adjust your return so that the information matches, which will probably change the amount of refund that you’re due (or how much tax you owe). 

Can You Expedite a Tax Refund?

The IRS doesn’t have a process for expediting tax refunds, but the Taxpayer Advocate Service (an independent part of the IRS) can help. If you’re able to demonstrate serious financial need, the organization can reach out within the IRS to get your refund issued as close to immediately as possible. 

Identity Theft and Tax Refund Fraud

It’s possible to have a late refund because someone else has fraudulently stolen your refund. This can be the result of someone filing a false tax return using your identity to claim your refund or somebody intercepting your refund check in the mail. It can also occur if somebody else claims your dependents to get the child tax credit. 

These are all signs that you could be a victim of tax identity theft:

  • You get a letter from the IRS about your tax return for this year, but you haven’t filed yet.
  • You can’t e-file your tax return because the system says you’ve already filed.
  • You receive a tax transcript in the mail but didn’t request one.
  • You get a letter from the IRS saying that you created an IRS account, but you didn’t make one.
  • You get a notice from the IRS that you owe taxes or a refund offset for this year, but you haven’t filed yet.
  • Your IRS records show you received income from an employer or other source you don’t recognize.
  • You received an Employer Identification Number (EIN) but didn’t apply for one. 

If you suspect that you’re facing a case of tax identity theft, you should take action right away. Here’s what you can do:

  • Respond immediately to any IRS notice you’ve received by calling the phone number on the letter.
  • Request a copy of the fraudulent return, if applicable.
  • Complete IRS Form 14039: Identity Theft Affidavit.
  • Contact the IRS at 800-908-4490.

Avoiding Tax Refund Problems

It’s actually quite simple to avoid problems with your tax refund. It’s important to treat your tax return carefully by double-checking every line item and ensuring that it’s correct and matches the 1099s, W-2s, or other tax documents that you have. This helps ensure that your refund is processed quickly and not flagged for review. 

Triple-check your bank routing and account number if you’re requesting direct deposit for your refund, and make sure your mailing address is correct if you’re asking to receive your refund check by mail. This can help prevent your refund from going to the wrong place. 

Finally, to prevent identity theft from affecting your tax return, safeguard your social security number and other personal information by taking action to keep it private. The IRS publication Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft can help with that part. 

The best and simplest way to avoid tax refund problems is by enlisting help where you need it. A professional tax firm knows the tax law inside and out and can help you complete your return without errors or misinformation. 

When to Get Help With Refund Issues

It’s common to feel like you’re in over your head when you discover that your refund was seized via offset, or that your math was way off and you actually owe money. You don’t have to struggle through refund problems by yourself. 

You should get help with refund issues if you:

  • Don’t know how to proceed.
  • Are concerned about dealing with the IRS.
  • Need assistance with an audit, review, or identity theft situation. 
  • Have contacted the IRS but don’t have a resolution.
  • Have a resolution to your lost refund, but aren’t satisfied with it. 

A qualified tax law firm can help you understand the specific reason that your refund has been delayed and navigate the process of contacting the IRS if your situation requires that.

Frequently Asked Questions About Tax Refund Issues

If you still have questions about tax refund delays and other problems, here are some of the most often-asked questions about common refund issues: 

Can I get a refund if I’m making payments on an installment agreement for a prior year?

According to the installment agreement terms set by the IRS, you can’t receive a refund if you’re still in debt despite having a payment arrangement. As long as you have a balance with the IRS, your refund will be offset toward your tax debt. Once the debt is completely cleared, you can start receiving refunds again. 

What can I do if I lost my tax refund check?

If you lost your tax refund check, you should promptly initiate a refund trace to determine whether the check has been cashed. If no one has cashed the check, then the BFS will issue a replacement check and cancel the old one. 

In the event the trace returns that somebody’s cashed the check, then you’ll have to complete a claim package before you can receive a replacement refund check. The BFS will automatically send you a claim package with a copy of the cashed check. You’ll need to complete the claim package and return it as soon as possible. 

Follow the directions and prompts to fill out the claim package, then return it to the BTS at the address they provided in the claim package. BFS will process your claim and assess whether they can replace the refund check. The waiting period can take up to six weeks. 

Why is my refund delayed?

There are a lot of potential reasons that your refund could be delayed. They include: 

  • Your return has been audited
  • Your return is under review
  • Your refund was sent, but stolen or lost
  • Your return contained math or informational errors
  • Your return’s income details don’t match the provided W-2s, 1099s, and other tax documents 

If any of these reasons apply to you (except for the case of stolen or lost refunds), the IRS will send you a notice describing the problem, how they reassessed your taxes due to fix it, and what the outcome is. It will let you know if your refund due remains the same or if it increases or decreases. 

Can the Taxpayer Advocate help me get my refund?

If you’re stuck waiting for your refund, and you’re going to be in serious financial trouble without it, call the Taxpayer Advocate Service at 877-777-4778. They have the ability to reach out to other departments of the IRS to get your refund issued as soon as possible. 

How long can the IRS hold your refund for review?

More than nine times out of 10, the IRS issues tax refunds in 21 days or less – and that’s calendar days, not business days. However, the IRS does have the ability to hold your refund for review or audit, which can delay getting your refund. There isn’t an actual limit on how long the IRS can hold your refund for review, but you can contact the IRS after six months if you think your refund has been forgotten, offset, or lost. 

Why did I not receive the full amount of my tax refund?

Only the IRS knows why you didn’t receive your full refund. The IRS should send you a notice describing why you received a partial refund and whether you need to take action by responding. If you see a partial refund land in your bank balance or your mailbox, and you haven’t gotten a letter, you should call the IRS to learn why you didn’t receive the amount you expected. 

What if the IRS made an error in depositing my refund?

If you receive a refund that’s more money than you’re entitled to, or you get a refund when you weren’t expecting it, you should call the IRS at 800-829-1040 and report the amount you got. They’ll let you know how to proceed. In the meantime, keep the paper check (if you have one) and don’t bend or fold it – but do void it. And definitely don’t spend that refund unless the IRS confirms that it belongs to you. 

Get Help With Big (or Small) Tax Refund Problems 

It’s always a little anxiety-inducing realizing that it’s been well over 21 days and still you haven’t gotten your tax refund. Or that your refund dropped into your account, but it’s only one-third the size that it was supposed to be. These problems feel big and intimidating, and you might not want to go through them alone. 

That’s where we can help. TaxCure can help you find a local tax professional to help you deal with your tax refund problems. To get help now, search for a tax pro in your local area, and then, call for a consultation.

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