One of the easiest ways to get the Internal Revenue Service to process your tax return faster is something many people do anyway for their own convenience: Filing your taxes online rather than on paper. But even with a digital return, it can take some time to get that return processed and get the IRS refund that you're due. In the meantime, you can check your federal tax return status online and make sure to watch for any mail from the IRS.
Faster IRS Refund Filing Online
If you're anxious to get your tax return processed and get your IRS refund, it's a good idea to ditch the traditional paper forms and file online instead. Paper returns can take up to six to eight weeks to process on average, while the IRS says it issues refunds for most electronic returns within 21 days.
If you're attached to the paper forms, you can use the IRS Free Fillable Forms service, which lets you fill out the forms digitally and submit them to the IRS. It's free to use, and you don't even need to pay for postage. You'll still have to fill out any state and local income tax forms separately that you may need to file.
You can also use online tax preparation software. If you make less than $66,000, you can often do so for free. If your income is at that level, you can often file state and local forms for free, as well. Tax prep software, which is questionnaire-based and usually handles much of the arithmetic and form-to-form data transfer for you, can be less intimidating than filing on paper or the raw forms approach.
Asking for your refund directly deposited to your bank can also speed getting your money back. It can take a few weeks to get a paper check from the IRS, while direct deposits are generally processed in a few days once your return is approved, according to the IRS.
Where's My Refund Service
Once you do file, you can sign on to the IRS's website to check the status of your filing and see roughly when your refund is due. You can start expecting to see information about your return 24 hours after filing online or four weeks after filing on paper.
Visit the IRS's "Where's My Refund" site to check the status of your return. You may also get some notifications through any tax prep software you use. The service is usually updated once per day.
Some states also offer online return tracking tools of their own.
IRS Review Process Found Errors in Your Return
If you made a mistake in your return or didn't fully complete it, that can take the IRS longer to process. If you file on paper and forget to sign the return physically, this can also slow down the IRS review process. Naturally, if your name, mailing address or bank account information is incorrect, this can slow down the IRS when it tries to issue you a refund or collect your money.
The IRS can sometimes make corrections for math errors on its own and simply update how much you owe or what refund you're due, but for more complex changes the agency may reach out to you with inquiries.
If you find you've made a mistake on your return or left something out, you may need to amend your return yourself. To do so, file IRS Form 1040-X, which essentially lets you spell out changes to your tax return and why you need to make them.
An amended return can only be filed on paper, even if you filed your original return electronically. It can also take up to 16 weeks to process, and the IRS advises you not to call for information about where things stand until this period is elapsed. In the meantime, you can use the IRS's "Where's My Amended Return" website to check for any information that's available.
If you catch a mistake quickly enough, you may be able to file what's called a superseding tax return using your normal tax form. Some tax prep software can guide you through the process. You generally must do so by your normal tax deadline, which is usually April 15 or the next business day.
Injured Spouse Relief
Another reason your IRS refund might be delayed in processing is if you filed for injured spouse relief. This doesn't refer to a physical injury. Instead, it's the term for a situation where two spouses are filing or did file a joint return and collectively owes taxes, but one spouse believes only the other spouse should be held liable.
For example, if a wife provided her husband money to pay her share of a tax payment, and he kept the funds, she could file for injured spouse relief. Similarly, if one spouse provided incorrect information that resulted in a penalty for the couple, the other spouse could file for relief.
If such a situation applies to you, you can file for injured spouse relief using Form 8857. The IRS will contact your current or former spouse as part of its review, though it won't reveal your current name or contact information. The downside is this IRS review process can mean it takes longer for your return to be processed and might delay your refund.
Tax Credits and Processing Delays
If you filed for the Earned Income Tax Credit or Additional Child Tax Credit, you might see a larger refund. On the other hand, the IRS isn't allowed to issue you a refund before February 15 of the year you file. This is an anti-fraud measure.
Unfortunately, there are no exceptions to this rule, even it creates a financial hardship. You also can't ask the IRS to give you a partial refund and process the portion due to the tax credit at a larger date.
File Early for Faster Processing
The closer you get to the tax deadline, the more people are filing their returns. This can mean longer delays as the IRS simply has more physical and digital paperwork to comb through.
One simple way to speed your refund is to simply file as early as you receive all the tax documents you need. This not only gets the processing started earlier in the year, but can also mean fewer days to process your return from start to finish.
Identity Theft Issues
The IRS warns that if your return is affected by identity theft or fraud issues, it can take longer to process. Some fraudsters use other people's Social Security numbers to file bogus returns in their names and claim refunds. When the actual taxpayers go to file, they have to wait for the IRS to investigate to get what they're actually due.
If you have had identity theft issues related to taxes in the past, you can get what the IRS calls an Identity Protection PIN. This is a code number the IRS will mail to you each year that you must include when you file your taxes. You can enter it in tax prep software or write it on a paper return. If thieves try to file in your name and don't have the PIN, they shouldn't be successful.
In a limited pilot program, people in some states can get an IP PIN even if they haven't been affected by fraud. Check with the IRS to see if you're eligible if you're concerned about fraud.
- IRS: New Federal Tax Law May Affect Some Refunds Filed in Early 2017; IRS to Share Details Widely with Taxpayers Starting This Summer
- IRS: Held or Stopped Returns
- Forbes: IRS Confirms That Previously Delayed Tax Refunds Should Be Arriving Soon
- CPA Practice Advisor: Is Your 2018 Income Tax Refund Late? This May Be the Reason, And When You Should Receive Your IRS Refund
- IRS: The Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN)
- IRS: Identity Theft Information for Taxpayers and Victims
- Nerdwallet: 4 Ways to Speed Up Your Tax Refund
- IRS: Free File: Do Your Federal Taxes for Free
- IRS: Where's My Refund?
- IRS: Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, Frequently Asked Questions
- IRS: Where's My Amended Return?
- The CPA Journal: A Tax Return Do-Over?
- USA Today: Some IRS Refunds to Be Delayed Until Feb. 15
Steven Melendez is an independent journalist with a background in technology and business. He has written for a variety of business publications including Fast Company, the Wall Street Journal, Innovation Leader and Ad Age. He was awarded the Knight Foundation scholarship to Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.