About 75% of American taxpayers get refunds in a typical year, even though the number is expected to be down somewhat in 2019 due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) passed in December, 2017.
That’s a lot of people waiting on tax refunds, and most understandably want them as quickly as possible. After all, the over-payment of taxes has the effect of giving the government a tax-free loan.
So when should you expect your tax refund, especially if it’s particularly large?
The answer is it depends.
But the good news is refunds are going out much more quickly now with e-filing and direct deposits. The IRS issued refunds to more than nine out of 10 taxpayers in less than 21 days last year.
The entire process is happening much more quickly all the time. For example, while the IRS normally says to wait 24 to 48 hours for your return to be accepted by the agency after e-filing, a confirmation of acceptance often comes in less than an hour. The whole process seems to have accelerated.
Factors that Affect the Speed of Your Tax Refund
The IRS doesn’t put out a specific schedule detailing exactly when taxpayers can expect their refunds. But there are general guidelines that can offer a clue.
For example, we know when you receive your tax refund depends largely on two major factors:
- how you file your return (e-file or paper file), and
- how you set up your refund (direct deposit or paper check).
Taking those variables into account, refunds are generally expected to be received within the following timelines:
- E-file with direct deposit, 1 – 3 weeks
- E-file with paper check refund, 4 weeks
- Paper file with direct deposit, 6 – 8 weeks
- Paper file with paper check refund, up to 8 weeks
It’s important to understand these timelines are estimates only. For example, if you e-file with direct deposit, the IRS generally says you’ll receive your refund in about two weeks. But many taxpayers receive theirs in just one week.
There are also certain factors that can make it take a little bit longer. For example, certain tax credits, like the earned income tax credit and the additional child tax credit can delay a refund.
Another variable is filing early. Early in January the IRS confirmed it would begin processing returns on January 28. The technically speaking, you can file your return any time after January 1. There’s been a trend of people filing early in January when they expect large refunds. Various tax preparation services have been promoting the practice.
But if you filed your tax return on January 5, it wasn’t going to be processed for another 23 days. Most likely, the clock on your refund began running on January 28, which may have pushed your refund into the middle of February even if you e-file for direct deposit.
When You Should Expect Your Tax Refund
Based on the variables above, you can expect your tax refund to arrive within the time frames in the table below. The table starts on January 28, since that’s when the IRS began processing returns.
Tax refunds may occur after the dates listed in the table as the April 15 due date approaches. Filing traffic is usually heaviest in late March and early April, and even right up to the deadline. This is most likely because taxpayers who owe will prefer to wait as long as possible, slowing the refund process as they do.
Tracking Your Refund
If you’re not content to simply wait for your return, you always have the option to track its progress directly with the IRS. You can do this through the Where’s My Refund Tool.
You’ll have to wait at least 24 hours after e-filing your return to begin tracking your refund. But in another example of how e-filing is the superior strategy, you’ll need to wait four weeks to begin tracking it if you mail in your return.
To begin tracking your refund, you’ll need to enter your Social Security number, filing status (single, head of household, married filing jointly, etc.), and the exact amount of your expected refund.
If you’re anxious, and want to stay on top of the process on a day-to-day basis, the IRS even offers its mobile app, IRS2Go. It can be downloaded for free at Google Play, the App Store, and Amazon.com, for iOS (9.0 or later) and Android (4.0 and up) devices.
The IRS recommends calling to follow up only if it’s been more than 21 days since you e-filed your return, or six weeks since mailing your return.
Factors that can Slow Your Refund
Before filing your return, be sure to check carefully for errors. Even minor ones can delay your refund. A good strategy is to prepare your tax return, then let it sit for a couple of days.
When doing your review, do it with the assumption there may be errors. Check all entries against the source documents, and make sure they’re all an exact match.
Factors that can delay your refund include:
- An error in your Social Security number, even if it’s only by one digit.
- An incomplete or incorrect address.
- Incorrect income or withholding numbers.
- Incomplete information, such as not providing your children’s Social Security numbers.
- Math errors (though these are unlikely with tax preparation software).
- Entering incorrect or incomplete direct deposit information.
If you prepare your return with tax software, most of these errors will be caught by the program. Generally speaking, your e-file attempt will be rejected if your return is found to be either incomplete or contain incorrect information. You’ll be forced to make the corrections before even filing.
A Common Problem with 2018 Refunds: Owing or Getting a Smaller Refund
The IRS is already reporting a decline in the number of people receiving tax refunds in 2019 compared to 2018. According to Forbes contributor, David Rae, other taxpayers are seeing smaller refunds than they expected to get. “For those of you who did not adjust your tax withholdings (estimated taxes taken out your paycheck),” said David, “you could end up with a much smaller tax refund compared to previous years. Some of you may even end owing more taxes when you file.”
The new tax law brought certain significant changes to the tax code. One of the biggest is changes in major tax deductions. Perhaps the most significant has to do with the deduction for state and local taxes (SALT), which are now capped at $10,000. Prior to 2018, there was no limit on SALT deductions. This is just one example. The net result is either a lower tax refund, or even an unexpected tax liability.
If you’re in that situation for your 2018 return, the good news is you can make adjustments in 2019 that will eliminate a repeat when you file your return next year. You can either increase your withholding taxes, or, if you’re self-employed, increase your tax estimates. A small increase in either can get you back to the kind of tax refunds you’ve come to expect.
This article originally appeared on Forbes