If anyone tells you that they have the 2019 tax filing season all figured, they’re lying. By all accounts, the upcoming tax season is going to be tricky. Despite a shoestring staff due to the shutdown, new tax forms and new tax rules, the 2019 tax season is still set to open on January 28, 2019. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) claims that the season will operate as close to normal as possible—including issuing tax refunds.
So when are those tax refunds coming? Assuming no delays, what follows are my best guesses for expected returns based on filing dates and information from the IRS:
My numbers are based on an expected IRS receipt date beginning on the open of tax season, January 28, 2019, through the close of tax season on April 15, 2019. To keep the chart manageable, I’ve assumed the IRS received your e-filed tax return on the first business day of the week; that’s usually a Monday, but if there’s a holiday (like President’s Day), I’ve skipped ahead until Tuesday. If you file on a Tuesday, the chart assumes that your refund will be processed the following Monday. That’s true even though the IRS can receive and process tax returns on each business day.
The same logic holds true for issuing tax refunds. For purposes of the chart, I’m assuming that the IRS will issue your direct deposit within two weeks of receipt of your return and issue paper checks the following Friday. In reality, the IRS issues tax refunds on every business day, so the date could move forward or backward depending on the day your return was received.
The IRS says that most refunds are issued within 21 days. Statistically, the IRS has pegged the number at 90%. Anecdotally, taxpayers with fairly straightforward returns and no flags or other issues receive their tax refunds in an average of 10-14 days. That means that assuming a window within 2-3 weeks of receipt—not from the date of filing or mailing—from the following Monday is a reasonable assumption.
Other sites may have different numbers, but remember they’re just guessing, too, since the IRS no longer makes their tax refund processing chart public. Do not rely on any tax refund chart—mine included—for date-specific planning like a large purchase or a paying back a loan. Relying on a date certain, especially in uncertain times, is a recipe for disaster.
Finally, don’t get ahead of yourself if you claim the earned-income tax credit (EITC) and the additional child tax credit (ACTC). By law, the IRS must wait until mid-February to begin issuing refunds to taxpayers who claim the EITC or the ACTC. In addition to normal processing times for banks, factoring in weekends and the President’s Day holiday, the earliest EITC and ACTC-related refunds are expected to be available on February 27, 2019; that’s assuming direct deposit and no other issues. If you’re looking for more information, the “Where’s My Refund?” tool will be updated with projected deposit dates for affected filers after February 23, 2019.
If you want to get your tax refund as fast as possible, the IRS recommends that you e-file your tax return and use direct deposit. If you file by paper, it will take longer. The IRS notes that processing times can take up to four weeks in a “normal” tax season, and this tax season promises to be far from normal.
Even if you request direct deposit, you may still receive a paper check. Since 2014, the IRS has limited the number of refunds that can be deposited into a single account or applied to a prepaid debit card to three. Taxpayers who exceed the limit will instead receive a paper check. Additionally, the IRS won’t issue a refund by direct deposit into just any account: It can only be deposited into an account in your name, your spouse’s name or both of your names if married with a joint account. If there’s an issue with the account, the IRS will send a paper check.
If you’re looking for more information about the timing of your tax refund, don’t reach out to your tax professional. Instead, the IRS encourages you to use the “Where’s My Refund?” tool. Have your Social security number or ITIN, filing status and exact refund amount handy. Refund updates should appear 24 hours after e-filing or four weeks after you mailed your paper return. The IRS updates the site once per day, usually overnight, so there’s no need to check more than once during the day.
If you’re looking for tax information on the go, you can check your refund status with IRS2Go, the official mobile app of the IRS. The app includes a tax refund status tracker.
If, after 21 days following the day you e-filed your return, or six weeks since you filed your paper return, you still haven’t received your refund and you did not claim the EITC or ACTC, there may be a problem. There might be an error on your return, it may be incomplete or require review, or you may have been impacted by identity theft. If the IRS needs more info, they will contact you by mail. Otherwise, you can try calling the IRS, but remember that phone lines may be affected by the shutdown. The days leading up to President’s Day weekend (February 16-18, 2019) are the busiest for IRS, so expect longer than average wait times even if the government is back in business.