Dude, Where’s My Refund? Why Your Tax Refund May Be Delayed


If you’re like most people, you look forward to your annual tax refund. You can get caught up on bills, buy something you’ve needed, get the car fixed or even get out of town for the weekend. Regardless of how you spend it, you look forward to that small windfall each year.

What if your refund is late, even though you filed electronically and filed on time? Here’s a look at the hows and whys of a delayed tax refund.

Reasons For Delays

Your refund might be delayed if there is an old debt that needs to be paid. The IRS in most cases will use your refund to offset that debt. Some examples include

  • Past due student loan debt
  • Back taxes
  • Child support
  • Any other qualified federal debt

Once the creditor receives their share of your refund, the IRS will issue you the remainder.

Even if you have no outstanding federal debt, the IRS can still withhold your refund if your address on your returns doesn’t match the address on your W2, 1099 or other tax documents, or if your bank account direct deposit information is incorrect or missing. If either are the case, the IRS will send you a notice requesting that you verify your information before they send you a paper check.

Checking the Status of Your Refund

Let’s assume you’re in the clear as far as owing any outstanding federal debt or child support payments. There are two popular tools for checking your refund status.

  • The IRS2Go mobile app is free to download to just about any mobile device. Use it to check your refund status.
  • The IRS website is available 24 hours a day. Click on the Where’s My Refund link and use the secure portal to check your refund status.

Regardless of which tool you use, you’ll need to have your social security number, filing status and the dollar amount of your refund available. You can then find out the status of your refund including the date it was received, processed, sent to your bank (if you requested direct deposit) or sent to your address if you requested a paper check.

You’re only able to check your refund status once a day, since both tools are only updated once daily, usually overnight.

If your status shows that your refund has been sent but you haven’t received it after a reasonable amount of time, you can request a paper check. You can access the IRS website and follow the prompts, or call the IRS’s toll-free number and follow the prompts on the automated menu. It’s a good idea to request a paper check if you suspect your original check has been lost or stolen.

If you requested an automatic deposit to your bank account, contact your bank before requesting a paper check. While government checks clear fairly quickly, some banks will hold the funds for a week or more to make sure they clear.

A delayed tax refund can lead to some serious nail-biting if you’re counting on those funds to help with expenses or a major purchase. If several weeks have passed and you haven’t received your refund, you have the option of tracking your refund status and requesting a paper check in the absence of any outstanding federal debt.

It’s your money, after all, and it belongs in one place: your wallet.