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Tax refunds act as annual windfalls that many Americans anticipate each year. In years past, their arrival has been easy to predict. But this year, many who are counting on this money have faced unexpected delays. We want to help you understand these delays and what your options are in the meantime.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Tax Refund?

The IRS works hard to pay most tax refunds within 21 days of filing. But the keyword here is most. Last year, Americans filed 49.8 million tax returns. Dispersed across 26 filing days, that means that the IRS receives, on average, about 1.91 million tax returns each day during the filing season (January 1 through April 15). While tax refund delays can be frustrating when you’ve already worked the money into your budget, they’re more common than you might think.

Where Is My Tax Refund?

If you’re still waiting on your refund from your 2020 tax return, here are two common reasons that it may be delayed:

  • There is a discrepancy between the amount you claimed as a Recovery Rebate Credit and the amount the IRS deemed you eligible for.
  • You used the lookback rule to use your prior-year earned income to calculate your Earned Income Tax Credit or Additional Child Tax Credit.

These two events would trigger a manual review by the IRS of your tax return, delaying your refund. Additionally, your tax refund may be delayed or even withheld if you owe federal taxes or certain other unpaid debts, including:

  • Overdue child support
  • Federal agency payments
  • State taxes
  • Unemployment compensation repayments

Other Common Tax Refund Delays

If the delays described above don’t apply to your situation, there are a few other reasons the IRS may be holding on to your refund. Some of the most common refund holds include:

  • A math error on a paper return.
  • An error in your personal information, such as a Social Security Number that doesn’t match the one they have in their system.
  • The IRS needs further confirmation of your identity due to suspected identity theft.
  • The IRS needs further proof that you are eligible for the tax credits you claimed.
  • You need to confirm your health insurance coverage.
  • You need to file an old return.
  • You’re still under audit for a prior year’s tax return.

With these types of holds, it may be as simple as filing an amendment to your return or verifying your identity. You should have received something in the mail from the IRS alerting you to the missing information or error made. A timely response to any IRS inquiry will help prevent further delays.  

Tax Refund Status

To better understand the status of your refund, take a look at any paperwork that the IRS has sent you in the mail. Carefully review your latest IRS return, account information, notices, and other relevant information. If the forms you’ve received are confusing or unclear and you can’t determine the status of your tax refund using the information on the IRS website, call the phone number listed on the most recent IRS document you received. The IRS will be able to clarify what’s expected of you.

What to Do While You Wait for Your Tax Refund

The first step in obtaining your delayed refund is returning the information requested or filing an amendment as soon as you can if required. But once it’s delayed, and you’re in a hurry and unwilling to wait even longer, you have options in the meantime if you are in need of some fast funds. One option is a Spotloan, our short-term installment loan that can be paid off early with no prepayment penalties.

And once you get your refund, you can wipe out your Spotloan balance without worrying about being charged extra for paying off your loan early. Prepayment fees can be a big surprise so make sure you pay close attention when selecting a short term lender.

While you wait for your tax return, you could also obtain the funds you need by asking friends or family members for a loan, taking a cash advance from your credit card, or talking to your employer. Your employer may be able to give you a pay advance or overtime hours to hold you over until your refund arrives.

NOTE: This article is not intended as official tax advice. Please consult with your tax accountant or a tax expert for any official tax advice.