How long does it take to get a tax refund?

How long does it take to get a tax refund?

Key takeaways

If you're expecting a tax refund, then you may be wondering how long it takes to get your money. Find out what this timeline may look like for you.


Depending on whether you’re planning to get a tax refund, tax season could either be an exciting or an anxiety-inducing time. The good news is that if you expect a tax refund, it can be a time to boost your savings, make progress toward a financial goal, or even get yourself on solid financial ground.

Recent Empower research shows 28% of Americans expect their tax refund to be just under $3,000 this year, with nearly half (48%) of those expecting a tax refund considering it an important resource to combat rising costs.

But with the topic of tax refunds comes one very important question: hHw long does it take to get your refund? Read on to get a better understanding of the tax refund process and timeline, factors that can influence your refund timeline, how to track your refund, and more.

The IRS tax refund process

The IRS follows a very detailed process when handling tax returns and issuing tax refunds. If you're filing electronically, the first step is for them to accept your return, which usually happens within 24-48 hours.

During this time, they are making sure that the personal information included on your return matches the information in their records. If everything checks out, you’ll receive a notice that the IRS has accepted your return. This is when the clock starts ticking on your refund schedule.

You can help ensure the speed of your return approval by ensuring that everything on your tax return is accurate. To approve your return, the IRS must verify your personal information and match your return to its own records. This can be delayed if you’ve included inaccurate information on your return.

Also note that the IRS will notify you when your tax return has been accepted. If you don’t receive a notification, you can check the IRS website for updates. If more than 48 hours have passed and your return hasn’t been approved, the IRS may be having a difficult time verifying your information.

IRS tax refund timeline

The IRS refund timeline begins once your return has been accepted, which is usually within 24 to 48 hours of you filing your tax return. Once that happens, the amount of time it will take for you to receive your refund will depend on your filing method and chosen refund method, as you can see in the table below.

Filing method

E-file/Direct deposit

Paper file/Direct deposit


Paper file/Check

Refund time

1-3 weeks

3 weeks

1 month

2 months

Factors influencing tax refund processing time

There are a variety of factors that may impact your refund processing time, including your fling method, your refund method, and the information included on your tax return.

  • E-filing vs. paper filing: Your filing method is an important factor that can impact the amount of time it takes you to receive your refund. Generally speaking, filing your return online will result in a significantly faster refund than filing via mail. In fact, you could have your refund within one week if you e-file, compared with three weeks for paper filing. You can easily e-file your tax return with tax preparation software.
  • Return method: The method you choose to receive your refund can also affect your refund timeline. Typically, you can expect to receive your refund more quickly via direct deposit than if you choose to receive a paper check. In fact, getting your refund via check can take one month when you e-file and two months when you file by mail.
  • Date of return acceptance: The date on which your return is accepted affects your position in the queue for receiving your refund. Even if you filed before someone else, you may receive your refund after them if there were delays with accepting your return.
  • Accuracy of information: It’s critical that you ensure the accuracy of everything on your tax return, including your personal information, bank account information, and more. Not only does an accurate return help you avoid audits and legal troubles, but it also helps you receive your refund faster. Inaccurate information is especially likely to cause long delays if it leads the IRS to suspect fraud.

Read More: IRS audit triggers

  • IRS processing times: It may take longer to receive your refund if the IRS is currently experiencing high demand or delays. Stay updated on IRS announcements to learn if there are any significant delays that could push back your refund timeline.
  • Certain tax credits: The IRS can’t legally issue refunds for certain tax credits until mid-February. If you claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit or Additional Child Tax Credit, even if you file your return early, you shouldn’t expect to receive it until the second half of February.

Federal tax refund vs. state tax refund

Federal income taxes and state income taxes are two entirely different things, just as the IRS is entirely separate from your state’s taxing authority. As a result, your federal and state tax refunds may arrive at two different times, even if you file both returns on the same date.

Each state has its own taxing authority and, as a result, is likely to have different refund timelines. To learn more about how long it will take to receive your state tax refund, consult your state government.

Methods of receiving tax refunds

When you file your taxes, you’ll be given two different options by which to receive your refund: direct deposit and paper check. The method you choose will significantly affect how long it takes for you to receive your refund.

  • Direct deposit to bank account: Direct deposit is when your tax refund is deposited into your bank account. This is the quickest refund method, and you might receive your refund within one to three weeks, depending on your filing method. Just make sure the bank account information on your tax return is accurate to ensure the refund doesn’t end up in the wrong account.
  • Paper check via mail: You can also opt to receive your refund via paper check, which will arrive in the mail. This method takes longer than direct deposit, simply because there are more steps and more administrative work involved. Depending on your filing status, it could take between one and two months to receive your refund via this method.

Tracking your refund

You can track the status of your tax refund by using the IRS Where’s My Refund? tool. Or, if you prefer, you can call 800-829-1954 to check on the status of your refund. The tool will tell you the dates your tax return was received and approved and the date your refund was sent.

The IRS has also created an app called IRS2GO that allows you to track your tax refund. It can be downloaded from the Amazon App Store or the App Store® from Apple® or on Google PlayTM.

To use these tools, you’ll need to know your Social Security number, your filing status, and the dollar amount of your refund. Refund information is usually available about 48 hours after you file your tax return electronically or a month after you mail in a paper tax return.

It can be helpful to track the progress of your return for a couple of reasons. First, it will let you know when you should expect a check or a deposit of funds into your bank account. It can also make you aware if there have been any issues with your return. For example, if the Where’s My Refund? tool shows the IRS has issued your refund, but you haven’t received it, it may be time to call the IRS directly to clear up the problem.

Tips for faster tax refund processing

Once your tax return has been filed, it’s largely up to the IRS how long it will take for your refund to be processed. However, there are steps you can take before and during the tax filing process to help expedite things.

1. Keep your tax records organized.

Being organized will help you file your tax return sooner while also avoiding mistakes that could delay the processing of your return. For example, store all your tax documents — such as W-2 and 1099 forms and documentation supporting itemized deductions — in one central location so they’re easy to locate when you need them.

2. Use tax preparation software.

Tax prep software can greatly simplify and streamline the tax filing process. These programs include all the IRS forms and schedules you’ll need, and they also help you follow all the current tax laws and take advantage of every potential deduction, which could boost your tax refund.

3. Verify the accuracy of your tax return.

As we’ve mentioned, the accuracy of your tax return is one of the biggest reasons for delays, either in your return being accepted or your refund being processed. After you’ve completed your return but before you’ve filed it, go through it line by line to ensure that each piece of information is accurate.

4. File your return electronically and choose direct deposit of your refund.

As detailed above, filing your return electronically and choosing to receive your refund via direct deposit instead of a check in the mail will accelerate your refund considerably. With e-filing and direct deposit, your refund could be in your bank account less than two weeks after the IRS accepts your return.

Making the most of your tax refund

Do you have a plan for your tax refund this year? Getting a tax refund can be an excellent opportunity to help you get ahead on a financial goal. Let’s talk about a few things you could do with your tax return that would improve your financial situation.

  • Pay down debt: If you’re working to pay down debt, using your tax refund to make an extra payment can help you get there faster. Consider using your refund specifically for your highest-interest debt, such as a credit card balance.
  • Build an emergency fund: An emergency fund is there to help you cover unforeseen expenses or to navigate a loss of income. If you don’t already have an emergency fund in place — experts generally recommend having at least three to six months' worth of living expenses saved — your tax return could help you make progress toward that goal.
  • Boost your retirement savings: It might seem silly to use a cash injection you get today for retirement, which is likely decades away. But think of it this way — even just $1,000 extra in your retirement account could be worth more than $17,000 in 30 years.

Read More: How much should I save for retirement?

  • Save for a home down payment: Saving for a home can be a years-long process for some hopeful buyers. Putting your tax return toward that future down payment could help shave months — or even years — off that goal.
  • Indulge a little: Yes, a cash injection like a tax return can be an excellent opportunity to make progress toward a financial goal. But it’s easy to get discouraged and give up on your goals if you’re not having any fun. Set aside a portion of your tax refund for something purely fun and unnecessary.

Read More: How to spend your tax refund

The bottom line

If you’re expecting a tax refund, you’ll no longer have to worry and wonder about how long it will take to receive your refund. The information in this article should give you a good idea of when you might receive it, depending on your filing method and refund method.

Finally, remember the importance of accuracy when filing your tax return. Inaccurate information on your tax return can result in a delayed refund, audit, suspicions of fraud, and more. Enlisting the help of a reputable tax preparation software or professional can help reduce your risk of inaccuracies and help you get your refund more quickly.

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Gregory J. King, CPA

Gregory J. King, CPA


Greg King is a Tax Specialist at Empower. A Certified Public Account, he is responsible for reviewing and identifying inefficiencies and opportunities for client portfolios, estates, and tax situations.

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