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How Long Does It Take to Get a Tax Refund?

Written by Lisa Bigelow | Published on 5/29/2020


How long it takes to get your tax refund depends on how you file. Electronic filers or e-filers who request direct deposit get refunds faster than taxpayers who submit paper forms and request a paper check. The IRS claims it typically issues refunds within three weeks of the date after your tax return is accepted, if you file electronically and choose direct deposit. 

If you prefer to file on paper, the IRS says you’ll need to wait longer — possibly as long as six to eight weeks. There are several factors that could affect the processing time, such as when you file, your tax credits and deductions, and whether you want direct deposit or a paper check.

In this article we will cover:

When do I get my tax refund?

Here’s general guidance on how long it takes to get your tax refund from the date your return is accepted:

Direct Deposit Paper Check
E-File 7 to 21 days 30 days
Paper File 21 days 60 days

It's typically significantly faster if you opt for direct deposit over a paper check. Whether you file your return by sending it through the mail or if you e-file, you can get your refund deposited directly into your checking account. You do this by providing the IRS with your bank account and routing numbers when you file. If you already filed and didn’t give the IRS your bank account information, you’ll need to wait for a paper check.

Also note that you may experience delays receiving your tax refund if there are any errors in your return, such as an incorrect Social Security number or math mistakes, or if a necessary attachment is not included.

Claiming additional tax credits may increase your wait

Early filers usually get their refunds sooner, but some taxpayers who claim certain credits have to wait for their refunds because of federal law. If you normally claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) and you file early, you may have to wait longer to get your 2019 tax refund. According to the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH) Act, the IRS cannot send EITC or ACTC filers their refunds before Feb. 15.

There are a couple of reasons why people who claim these credits have to wait longer for their refunds. First, many taxpayers who claim these credits don’t qualify for them. Second, fraudulent filers, including identity thieves, sometimes illegally claim these valuable credits. The waiting period gives the IRS time to identify problem returns and investigate possibly fraudulent filers. 

Assuming you filed your return correctly and lawfully, you’ll receive your refund sometime after Feb. 15. 

How do I check the status of my tax refund?

Checking the status of your federal income tax refund is easy thanks to the “Where’s My Refund?” online tool. To see the latest updates, you’ll need your Social Security number, your filing status (single, married filing jointly or similar) and the exact amount of your refund. You can use this tool whether you e-file or send your tax return through the mail.

Keep in mind that even if you file electronically, it can take up to 24 hours for the IRS to acknowledge and accept your tax return. Tax prep programs automatically send updates when the IRS accepts your return, but if you file a paper return through the mail, you won’t receive a notification from the IRS unless there’s a problem.   

If you filed your paper tax return six weeks ago or more and you still don’t see any information using Where’s My Refund?, call the IRS directly at (800) 829-1040. The hours are Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. 

What should you do with your tax refund?

There are many ways you might use your tax refund, whether you’re a saver, a spender or anywhere in between.  

Start an emergency savings fund

We admit that starting an emergency fund isn’t the most fun thing you can do with a cash windfall, but you won’t regret saving when life goes sideways. And if you’re lucky enough to remain right-side-up and don’t need the money later on, you’ll have extra for something amazing, like a vacation, a wedding or retirement. 

Invest for retirement

Speaking of retirement, now is the perfect time to open and fund an IRA. These tax-advantaged vehicles won’t just help you save for later — you may be able to take a nice deduction when you file next year. Even if you already have a 401(k) plan, an IRA can be a nice complement for your retirement savings strategy.

Pay off debt

If you pay off high-interest credit card debt, you will see immediate savings on future interest payments. Just give some thought to whether you want to prioritize paying off debt or starting an emergency fund because saving now can help you avoid unwanted debt later.

Make home repairs or upgrades

If you’re itching for something tangible, why not look around home for inspiration? Some upgrades, such as a new heating system or blown-in insulation, can improve your home’s value and give you a tax break at the same time. Others, like a new front door, are less expensive but instantly boost your home’s curb appeal. Need to take care of a leak or another home maintenance headache? Doing repairs now can help your home retain its value. You’ll also avoid making a bad problem worse.

Invest in yourself

When your savings, retirement and balance sheet are up to snuff and you want to do something fun, start planning your next adventure. Studies suggest that people who invest in experiences are happier than those who focus on the material side of life. 

Explore a new part of the world or learn how to play an instrument. Start a garden. Go for a hike, or adopt a pet. Because when there’s money in your pocket thanks to your income tax refund, it’s the perfect time to think about what you want to accomplish next.


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