4 Reasons Your Tax Refund Is Delayed

Maurie Backman, The Motley Fool

You completed your tax return, saw that you have a refund due, and have been patiently waiting for that cash ever since. But what happens when your refund doesn't arrive when you expect it to?

First, know this: The IRS typically issues refunds for electronically filed returns within three weeks. If you went that route and are missing your cash, there's no need to panic that something is wrong or assume that the delay is due to the fact that you're getting audited. There might be another possible explanation, like the following.

1. You filed your return on paper

Though many taxpayers submit their taxes electronically these days, there are some who still prefer to go old school and file on paper. If you're one of them, know that that could be the reason why it's taking so long to get your tax refund. The IRS typically needs six weeks to process refunds for paper returns -- double the time it takes to refund electronic filers. As such, it might pay to change your ways and go electronic the next time you do your taxes.

A man with a perturbed expression points to the watch on his wrist.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

2. You didn't sign up for direct deposit

The IRS gives you the option to have your tax refund automatically deposited into a checking or savings account. If you don't sign up for direct deposit, you'll need to wait for a check to arrive by mail, which could easily take longer than an electronic deposit. And unfortunately, you can't discount the possibility of that refund getting lost along the way.

3. You put the wrong bank account information on your tax return

Signing up for direct deposit is a good way to get your tax refund sooner. But if you enter the wrong bank account information on your return, it'll delay the process substantially. If you realize after the fact that you put incorrect bank account details on your tax return, call the IRS at 800-829-1040. The agency will then advise on what steps need to be taken, as they'll depend on whether your refund was already processed and sent elsewhere.

4. Your return contained an error

Tax returns that are free of mistakes can usually be processed fairly quickly. But if yours had an error, the IRS might need time to verify or correct that information before your refund can be processed. Incidentally, filing electronically can reduce your chances of making a mistake, which is why taxpayers are often advised to go this route.

If you've been expecting a refund that never showed up, there are a number of possible explanations. The best way to get to the bottom of things, however, is to use the IRS's "Where's My Refund?" tool to get an update on where that money is. To use the tool, you'll need your Social Security number, filing status, and precise refund amount. If you filed electronically, you should be able to pull up your refund status 24 hours after submitting your return. If you filed on paper, however, that information won't be available for a good four weeks from when you sent your taxes in.

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