A small refund on your federal income taxes indicates you’re doing something right. You’re earning income, paying taxes as you earn and filing Form 1040 or its equivalent to reconcile what you've paid with what you owe. A large refund may encourage you to revise your Form W-4 with your employer. Form W-4 determines your allowances and payments to the Internal Revenue Service and the revenue department for your state. File your tax return early and hope that delays don’t thwart your plans for the refund money.
Filing your federal income tax return on paper delays the process, including the refund check. The IRS recommends that you not even check on your refund for four weeks after you file a paper return. You can check after 72 hours when you file electronically, although your refund check is probably still a few days away. The IRS estimates that it issues 90 percent of tax refunds within 21 days. Tax returns that are e-filed are less prone to errors that could cause delays in processing.
The IRS and many states provide online tracking for your tax refund. You’ll need to know the exact amount of your refund and your Social Security number. When you use the IRS.gov website, you’ll get an approximate date the IRS will issue your refund check -- not the date you’ll get the money. The date may change as the process updates. A delay doesn’t require any action by you unless the “Where’s My Refund” process suggests action.
Although the IRS processes tax returns with computers, human reviewers prevent many fraudulent and erroneous refunds. Filing close to the April deadline may slow your refund. Bottlenecks at the IRS related to equipment or staff during peak processing times could delay your refund. Your check could also be hung up because of something you did -- such as a mathematical error or a typo in your Social Security number. If you use direct deposit, any errors in the routing number or your bank account number will slow your refund check.
If you filed bankruptcy during the tax year or if you owe money from another tax year, you may get a notice from the IRS that it has delayed or captured your refund. The U.S. Department of Treasury has legal authority to collect delinquent debts, including child support payments and federal student loans, by offsetting a federal tax refund. If you owe debts that qualify, the federal government helps you pay them by applying your tax refund to the delinquency. Lucky you. If your tax refund goes through this process, it takes longer for you to get a check or electronic deposit for any remaining refund.
Linda Richard has been a legal writer and antiques appraiser for more than 25 years, and has been writing online for more than 12 years. Richard holds a bachelor's degree in English and business administration. She has operated a small business for more than 20 years. She and her husband enjoy remodeling old houses and are currently working on a 1970s home.