It’s that time of year again: Tax filing season! Preparers are anxious and hard at work. Many Americans are gathering information to give their preparer. But after all the paper is shuffled and the buttons are pressed, the first question I receive from my clients is: When will I receive my refund?
While this question is typical, the answer cannot be generalized. Let’s deal with the simple first. The IRS publishes general guidelines on processing and payment of tax returns. For the last few years, that timeline has been 7 to 21 days. This means from the time your return is accepted by the IRS–not from the time your preparer submitted the return, but the actual time the IRS sent a note to your preparer saying, “ok, we got it!” — it is likely you can expect to receive your refund anywhere during that 7 to 21 days.
But WAIT, there’s more! If your tax return has anything out of the ordinary–you marry, divorce, widow, have a child, complete a new complex form, change clothes, or it’s Tuesday (those last two were jokes! your tax return may be delayed beyond the typical 21-day turnaround time. You can always check the status of a refund starting 48 hours after the return has been accepted using the Where’s My Refund app on the IRS website or the IRS mobile application.
And don’t worry. Your delayed refund does not mean you are being audited or will be audited. It means the IRS needs more time and has exercised its authority to take it. Many times, especially earlier in the filing window, refunds are delayed because the IRS system isn’t quite prepared to process certain information–new, changed or old forms–in your return. There is a laundry list of reasons a refund is delayed. It’s all quite normal and routine. There is nothing to worry about in experiencing a delayed return.
A delayed refund also doesn’t mean your preparer screw up. While your preparer could have screwed up, the thing to keep in mind is that once the return is submitted, your preparer has no control over what happens afterwards. Your preparer should be able to give you general information or may even be able to contact the IRS on your behalf to ease your concerns. He or she may also address any questions you have after they give you information they got from the IRS on your behalf.
The key thing to remember is your tax return is like your yearly fingerprint with the IRS. A lot goes on behind the scenes of a tax return to verify the information you submit is accurate. There’s a very complicated system of checks and balances in place designed to make sure your hard-earned money is returned to you… safely.
While this may not be the most reassuring answer, try to keep this in mind: You’ve waited all year long to receive your money. A few additional days to ensure everything is in order and avoid future complications will only benefit you.