Tax season hasn't even started yet, but millions of taxpayers are already eagerly anticipating hoped-for refund checks from the Internal Revenue Service. Yet it can be hard to guess when those refunds will actually show up in your mailbox or bank account.
Although there's no hard-and-fast schedule that the IRS follows in getting people their refunds back, the tax agency does provide some typical time frames that it tries to follow in getting returns processed and refunds sent out. Below, we'll provide some simple guidelines you can use to estimate when your tax refund might come.
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How the IRS tries to get refunds to you
The IRS has said in past years that it gets nine out of 10 refunds back to taxpayers in less than 21 days, and in its most recent message to taxpayers, the service repeated its commitment to that goal. However, there are some new rules that apply to many taxpayers that could result in further potential delays for the earliest filers.
Specifically, new laws require the IRS to withhold any refunds on returns that include claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit or Additional Child Tax Credit until at least Feb. 15. From there, the IRS expects to release those refund amounts, but it cautions taxpayers that it could take until the week of Feb. 27 for those refund amounts to get directly deposited to your bank account. The service cites banking and financial systems needing time to handle direct deposits.
Nevertheless, taking these restrictions into account, there are still some things you can do if you want to expedite your refund to the maximum extent possible. First, filing your return electronically is the fastest way to get it into the processing system and often results in fewer errors than paper returns. Also, direct deposit gets money back to you much more quickly than getting a paper refund check mailed to you.
In order to get specific information on your refund once you've filed your return, the IRS has an online tool called Where's My Refund that you can use. There, you can see how much the IRS likes electronic filing, because you're allowed to use the tool as little as 24 hours after you file electronically, but have to wait four weeks after mailing a paper return before you can expect refund information.
A tax refund schedule you can use
It used to be that the IRS provided a firm schedule you could use to predict when you'd get a refund. That has gone away, but based on reasonable projections of turnaround time, you can estimate when you're likely to get a refund.
In particular, the table below has several assumptions. First, it assumes the IRS will take 10 days to issue a refund if you e-file your return. Next, it makes the assumption that paper returns will take four weeks to get to the IRS and get processed. And finally, it sets a 10-day expectation for the amount of time it takes a refund check to get to you by mail.
Based on those assumptions, here's an anticipated 2017 tax refund schedule.
Date You Filed
Refund Date If E-File + Direct Deposit
Refund Date If E-File + Mailed Refund
Refund Date If Paper-File + Direct Deposit
Refund Date If Paper-File + Mailed Refund
Table by author based on assumptions. *Returns that claim Earned Income Tax Credit or Additional Child Tax Credit must be held until Feb. 15, and IRS anticipates refunds won't be direct-deposited until the week of Feb. 27.
Again, the IRS won't necessarily follow this schedule, and the Where's My Refund tool is the best source for definitive information on your return as soon as it's available. Moreover, in some cases, the IRS might well get a refund back to you more quickly than the table suggests.
One last warning
Finally, note that the IRS is very clear that you shouldn't plan your finances in anticipation of having your refund hit your bank account on any specific date. No tax schedule that you'll see from any source can claim a guarantee of a date on which you'll get your refund. Estimates like the ones above can be useful for your planning, but make sure you leave yourself some wiggle room in case your luck this tax season turns out to be bad.