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What do do if you still haven't received your tax refund

What to do if your tax refund is late
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

In a normal year, most Americans expect to receive their tax refunds quickly, usually within a few weeks of filing their returns. But with processing delays due to COVID-19, many are waiting much longer. 

The IRS is saying that most refunds are still issued within 21 calendar days. So what happens if you still haven't received your tax refund? Here’s why yours may not have arrived and what you can do about it. 

Your return hasn’t been processed

The IRS has been behind on processing returns for the entire tax season, but there are a few situations causing additional delays for some taxpayers: 

  • You mailed your return instead of filing electronically. 
  • Your return has errors like an incorrect Recovery Rebate Credit.
  • Your return is incomplete. 
  • You filed a claim for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC). 
  • You submitted Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation. 
  • You are a victim of identity theft or fraud. 
  • Your return needs additional IRS review. 

If the IRS contacts you (which they will do by mail only) requesting clarification or more information, responding in a timely manner may help move your return along. 

Your refund has been delayed, lost or issued incorrectly

If your return has been processed, there are a handful of reasons that your refund may not have arrived. If you opted for a paper check rather than direct deposit, it’s possible that your check got lost in the mail or stolen. If you were expecting your refund to show up in your bank account, it’s possible that the account information on your return was entered incorrectly. 

Another unfortunate possibility is tax return preparer fraud — this is when the individual you hired to do your taxes altered your return after you approved and signed it to redirect funds to a different account than the one you selected. This situation may be tricky to track down, but often the IRS will alert you to inconsistencies on your return. You may also request a transcript of your tax account to make sure it matches the return you signed. 

A final possibility is that the IRS is holding onto your refund, either related to your claim for the EITC or ACTC or to offset debts, such as outstanding taxes or child support. 

How to check your return and refund status

The only way to track your return and refund is to use the Where’s My Refund? tool on IRS.gov. You can call the IRS Tax Help Line at 800-829-1040, but if your return is active on Where’s My Refund? you are unlikely to get any additional details not provided online. 

Your return status should appear within 24 hours of filing your electronic return or within four weeks of mailing your paper return. A status of “received” indicates that the IRS has your return for processing, and a status of “approved” means that the IRS has approved your refund. You will also see when the funds are expected to be distributed, and the status will change to “sent” when your refund is on its way. 

What is IRS TREAS 310?

If you see IRS TREAS 310 on your bank statement, this is your refund from your filed tax return. You may also see this code if you received an adjustment or credit on your return due to stimulus legislation. 

What to do if you haven’t received your refund (and need it)

Again, there’s really no way to speed along the processing of your return and the payment of your refund if there’s no specific issue with your return or evidence of fraud. If the IRS needs more information to finalize your refund, provide this in a timely manner. 

If you submitted the wrong bank account information for direct deposit, you can contact your bank and try to sort it out. If this doesn’t go anywhere, you can file Form 3911 for IRS assistance. However, the IRS cannot force your bank to transfer or return the money. 

If you suspect that your paper check was lost or stolen, you can start an IRS trace

In the event of tax return preparer fraud, the process to remedy your situation is lengthy. You’ll need to file a police report and provide a handful of documents to the IRS. 

Finally, if you are experiencing financial hardship while waiting for your return to be processed, you may be able to request that the IRS expedite your refund

Emily Long

Emily Long is a Utah-based freelance writer who covers consumer technology, privacy and personal finance for Tom's Guide. She has been reporting and writing for nearly 10 years, and her work has appeared in Wirecutter, Lifehacker, NBC BETTER and CN Traveler, among others. When she's not working, you can find her trail running, teaching and practicing yoga, or studying for grad school — all fueled by coffee, obviously.