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How Long Does it Take to Get Your Tax Refund Back?

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A common question heard at tax time is "how long does it take to get my refund back?" Consumers, especially those struggling in tough economic times, look forward to the financial boost that a tax refund gives. The good news is that the IRS provides the necessary tools that make finding the status of a federal tax refund check just a mouse click away. With state refund checks however, it's a little trickier since you have to know which state agency controls the tax return process. In this article, we'll guide you through the IRS's guidelines for when how long the refund check should take, and review the proper channels for getting both federal and state tax fund questions answered.

Federal Tax Refunds

How you file your taxes, via either U.S. mail or electronic filing, dictates how long it normally takes to receive a refund. Filing a return through the mail is, of course, the slower of the two processes. For those who mail their federal return, the IRS will remit a tax refund within six weeks after they have been received the completed return. If you file electronically, you should receive your tax refund within three weeks.

The IRS allows two options for receiving a federal tax refund: paper check sent via the mail, or an electronic funds transfer (also called a direct deposit). The direct deposit method, not surprisingly, is always the quicker option. The Federal 1040 form contains a section where consumers can opt for a direct deposit. If you want the IRS to electronically deposit your refund into more than one account you will need to file a separate form 8888.

How to Check on Your Federal Tax Refund

For anyone wanting to check the status of their tax refund, simply go to the IRS's Where's my refund webpage where you'll find an easy to use tool to request the information. If you would rather check the refund status by phone, you may call 1-800-829-1954. The IRS asks that you wait 3 days after filing electronically, or 3 weeks after mailing a return before checking for a status update. For those who file an amended return, however, the period to receive a refund check will take 8-12 weeks.

For efilers (e.g., those who file electronically) here is a refund cycle chart that gives target dates when either an electronic direct deposit or mailed paper check should be expected given a particular filing date.

Tips on Ensuring a Quick Refund

By eliminating mistakes, consumers can ensure that their refund is received in as timely a fashion as possible. The most common mistakes, which can cause delays in receiving a refund, are listed below:

  1. Social security number missing or incorrect
  2. Incorrect tax result, given reported income and filing status, was entered
  3. Mathematical errors in figuring the taxable income, withholding and estimated tax payments, Earned Income Credit, Standard Deduction for age 65 or over or blind, the taxable amount of social security benefits, and child and dependent care credit
  4. Items entered on incorrect line, especially estimated tax and withholding
  5. General Math Errors

State Tax Refund Process

As you might expect, each state has its own specific agencies and rules that govern taxation processes. Many states have a Department of Revenue that deals with tax filings and returns, for other states it may be the Tax Commission, Department of Taxation, or some other similar named department.

To check status on a state tax refund, find the state taxation agency for your particular state and go their website. Most state agencies, like the IRS, provide tools or resources for consumers to check on tax refund status.