In 2021, Tax Day — or the due date for filing federal and state income tax returns for most people — was delayed by about a month due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2022 Tax Day is scheduled to return to its traditional date of April 15.
One of the biggest questions many people have about their taxes is how long will it take to receive a tax refund. In general, the answer is anywhere between eight days and two months, depending on how you file and choose to receive your refund.
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Tax Refund Process
The IRS follows a very detailed process when handling tax returns and issuing tax refunds.
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. If you filed your return electronically, you can check the status of your refund by using the IRS’s online Where’s My Refund? tool. Or if you prefer, you can call 800-829-1954.
You’ll need to know your Social Security number, filing status, and dollar amount of your refund in order to get a status update. You can use this page about 24 hours after filing your tax return electronically or a month after mailing in a paper tax return.
Federal Tax Refund Schedule
Following is a breakdown of how much time it generally takes to receive a tax refund depending on how the return is filed and which method is chosen to receive the refund:
Factors that Affect Timing
As you can see, choosing electronic filing of your income tax return and direct deposit will considerably speed up the refund process. Before e-filing was available, tax returns had to be mailed to the IRS where the information was scanned or manually entered into the system. Then the IRS issued paper checks that had to be mailed to taxpayers. This manual process could take up to two months, keeping many people anxiously waiting by their mailboxes for weeks.
According to the IRS, refunds can be issued to taxpayers by direct deposit as soon as eight days after tax returns are filed. Meanwhile, nine out of 10 taxpayers choosing direct deposit receive their refunds within 21 days of the date they file electronically. Keep in mind that it may take an extra few days for your bank to make funds available to you after the refund is issued electronically.
You can still file your income taxes the old-fashioned way by mailing in your return and receiving a paper check if you prefer. However, you won’t receive your tax refund nearly as quickly.
How Can I Speed Up My Refund?
Here are three tips to help speed up receipt of your income tax refund.
1. Keep your tax records organized.
Being organized will help you file your tax return sooner while also avoiding mistakes that could delay processing of your return. For example, store all of 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 not only include all of the IRS forms and schedules you’ll need, but they also help ensure that you follow all the current tax laws and take advantage of every potential deduction, which could boost your tax refund.
3. 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.
What to Do Once You Receive Your Refund
A tax refund can seem like a financial windfall, so it’s smart to give some thought to what you’re going to do with the money once you receive it.
Here are five ideas.
1. Pay down debt, including your mortgage.
High consumer debt levels, especially credit card debt, are one of the biggest obstacles to building wealth, which makes paying off debt one of the smartest uses of a tax refund. If you’re not carrying credit card debt, consider using some or all of your tax refund to pay down the principal on your home mortgage.
Calculate It: Debt Payoff Calculator
2. Start or add to an emergency fund.
This is a stash of money kept in a liquid savings account that you can tap for a “rainy day,” such as an unexpected car or home repair or high out-of-pocket medical expenses. One benchmark is to save between three and six months’ worth of living expenses in an emergency fund.
3. Save it for retirement.
If you have an IRA or participate in a 401(k) or 403(b) retirement plan at work, consider contributing some or all of your tax refund to this plan. Doing so could help improve your retirement financial situation down the road.
4. Save it for a home down payment.
It’s a good idea to make at least a 20% down payment when buying a home if you can. This will help lower your monthly mortgage payment and might save you from having to purchase private mortgage insurance. Setting your tax refund aside in a down payment savings fund could help you accomplish this goal.
5. Have some fun!
These are all financially responsible strategies, but it doesn’t necessarily hurt to have a little bit of fun with your tax refund.
For example, maybe you could devote half of the refund to one of these ideas and the other half to something fun like a long weekend at the beach or in the mountains, or even just a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant you wouldn’t normally go to.
The Bottom Line
Personal Capital offers free financial tools that can help you improve your personal financial management, including how to make good decisions about what to do with your tax refund.
You can do a few things now to get yourself on the right track.
Download 5 Tax Hacks for Investors, an actionable guide with insights from fiduciary financial advisors. The guide is free.
Sign up for the Personal Capital Dashboard. Millions of people use these free and secure online financial tools to see all of their accounts in one place and plan for long-term financial goals.
Consider talking to a fiduciary financial advisor for more detailed guidance on your tax optimization strategies.