Have you been anxiously checking your bank account every morning waiting for your tax refund to hit? And it still hasn’t shown up even though you filed your taxes weeks ago? You’re not alone. Many Americans are frustrated that their tax refunds are taking way longer than usual this year.
The IRS is reporting major delays in issuing tax refunds in 2023. Even though the agency says it issues 9 out of 10 refunds within 21 days of receiving a tax return, many filers are still waiting on refunds long past that three week mark.
What’s behind the slower pace of tax refunds this year? There are a few key reasons your refund could get stuck in limbo at the IRS and take far longer than normal to reach your bank account.
The IRS May Need to Review Your Tax Return More Closely
The most common reason for delayed tax refunds is that the IRS has flagged your return for additional review. This extra scrutiny slows down processing time.
The IRS closely examines returns for errors, incomplete information, or suspicious activity. They may need to request additional documentation from you to verify certain credits or deductions you claimed.
You’re more likely to get flagged for review if:
- Your tax return contains errors or is incomplete. Maybe you transposed a number or forgot to include a form. Even small mistakes can trigger a second look.
- Your return contains questionable deductions or credits. Taking a very large home office deduction or charitable contribution could raise red flags.
- Your income changed significantly from last year. A big jump in income or deductions may lead the IRS to check if it’s accurate.
- You have unreported income. If you don’t fully report income like gambling winnings or side jobs, the IRS may catch it.
The IRS prioritizes returns getting refunds for additional review, since they want to prevent issuing refunds in error. So if you’re due a refund, expect more delays than those who owe taxes.
Unfortunately there’s no way to avoid getting picked for review if the IRS deems it warranted. Double check your return for accuracy before filing to avoid obvious red flags.
Expect to wait up to an extra 30 days if your return is flagged for review. The IRS may request additional documentation by mail, which will extend the process further.
Missing Information Can Hold Up Your Refund for Months
Another big factor slowing down refunds is missing information on tax returns. Even minor omissions can add weeks or months to the processing timeline.
Some of the most common missing info that stalls refunds:
- No Social Security numbers for dependents. You must provide a SSN or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) for each dependent you claim.
- Inaccurate Social Security numbers. Double check your SSN as well as those for your spouse and dependents. Even one wrong digit causes major delays.
- No forms for credits or deductions. Failure to include required forms like W-2s or 1099s leads to refund delays.
- No bank account for direct deposit. Without bank account and routing numbers, the IRS can’t directly deposit your refund.
- Forms not signed. You must sign your return and include occupational information.
- Supporting documents not included. Returns claiming EITC or education credits require extra docs.
- Math errors. Typos in totals or miscalculations delay processing.
- No tax payment included. If you owe taxes, not including payment holds up refunds.
Take extra care filling out your return to avoid missing info. Double check that you’ve included all required forms, signatures, and especially Social Security numbers before submitting your return.
Expect to wait 6 months or more for your refund if key information is missing from your return. The IRS will first send you a notice by mail requesting the missing items. Once you provide the necessary documentation, add several more weeks for verification and processing. Prevent this major delay by filing a complete, accurate return from the start.
Tax Identity Theft and Refund Fraud Triggers Investigations
With tax identity theft and refund fraud on the rise, the IRS has become extra vigilant in screening returns for suspicious activity. If they suspect your return may be fraudulent, your refund can be frozen for months while they investigate.
Here are some red flags that may trigger a fraud investigation:
- Your Social Security number was compromised or used by another filer.
- Your return looks dramatically different from previous years.
- Your reported income doesn’t match your W-2 or 1099 forms.
- You file a return after years of not filing.
- Your return includes false W-2s or exaggerated/false deductions.
You’ll receive a 5071C letter from the IRS informing you that your return is under review for suspected identity theft. You may wait up to 6 months for a refund while the IRS verifies your identity and investigates the suspected fraud.
If you receive this letter, respond promptly to the IRS request for documentation so you can resolve the situation faster. Be aware that someone may have stolen your identity if the letter comes unexpectedly.
New Law Delays Some Refunds Until Mid-February
Recent changes in tax law are also contributing to refund delays in 2023. A new provision requires the IRS to hold refunds until mid-February for returns that claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC).
Around 30 million taxpayers claim the EITC and ACTC each year. These important tax credits provide extra money in taxpayers’ pockets, but also are common targets for fraudsters.
To crack down on fraudulent refund claims, the IRS now must wait to issue refunds for all returns claiming these credits. This prevents early refunds going out in error before fraud checks are completed.
While the delay protects taxpayers against identity theft, it also means a longer wait for refunds. Even if you are a legitimate filer eligible for the EITC or ACTC, count on waiting until at least mid-February before the IRS issues your refund.
Some tips if you claim these credits:
- File as early as possible. This gives the IRS more time to process your return and complete fraud checks before the mid-Feb deadline.
- Check Where’s My Refund? in late Feb. Refund info won’t be available until then if you claimed EITC/ACTC.
- Set up direct deposit and sign up for email alerts. This ensures your refund gets to you quickly once released.
- Avoid taking out refund loans. With the processing delays, you’ll end up paying high interest rates.
While waiting is frustrating, this change ultimately protects taxpayers from losing billions to identity thieves each year.
Injured Spouse Allocation Forms Take 14 Weeks to Process
Married couples who file joint returns but have separate finances can run into refund delays if they file Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation. This form allows you to get back your share of a joint refund used to pay your spouse’s past-due debts like child support or student loans.
Processing Form 8379 requires extensive review and coordination across IRS departments. As a result, expect to wait up to 14 weeks for your refund if you filed this form.
Some tips if you filed Form 8379:
- Confirm it was filled out fully and accurately. Any errors add more delays.
- Check online using your Social Security number. It will show if your allocation is pending.
- Call the IRS Injured Spouse hotline to verify status.
- Set up direct deposit to get your share of refund quickly.
- Be patient as the 14 week processing timeline is standard.
While waiting over 3 months is inconvenient, the IRS must take time to ensure injured spouses receive the proper refund amount they are eligible for.
How to Check the Status of Your Delayed Tax Refund
The long wait for tax refunds can be frustrating and stressful. Fortunately, the IRS provides several ways to check your refund status so you can get an update on expected timing.
Before you check your refund status, make sure you have these three pieces of information handy:
- Your Social Security number (or ITIN)
- Your filing status (single, married filing joint, etc.)
- The exact whole dollar amount of your expected refund
The IRS updates refund status information once every 24 hours, usually overnight. Here are the best ways to check your status:
IRS Where’s My Refund Tool
The IRS Where’s My Refund tool at IRS.gov is the fastest and easiest way to check your status. Just enter your Social Security number, filing status, and exact refund amount. You’ll get a projected deposit date when your refund will arrive by direct deposit or mail.
Where’s My Refund displays personalized refund status within 24 hours after you e-file electronically. For paper returns, check back 4 weeks after mailing to allow processing time.
Where's My Refund shows if your return is received, approved, or sent. It also flags if your refund is delayed beyond the normal timeframe.
IRS2Go Mobile App
The free IRS2Go mobile app provides refund status checking on the go. Like the online tool, enter your info to see if your refund was received, is being processed, or was already sent to your bank or mailbox.
IRS2Go also lets you check your tax records, make payments, and sign up for helpful tax tips. Download from the App Store or Google Play.
IRS Automated Phone System
You can call the IRS automated refund hotline at 800-829-1954 to check your status by following voice prompts. Avoid calling the direct IRS helpline, as wait times to speak with an agent can be over an hour.
When prompted, provide your Social Security number and the exact refund amount shown on your tax return. The system will report if your return was received, is processing, or if your refund was sent.
Contact IRS Directly
If you are unable to get clear status information using the automated tools above, you can call the IRS help line at 800-829-1040. Be prepared for very long hold times, especially during peak tax season.
Before calling, gather the required info noted above. An agent can provide live support to explain any delays in processing your return.
When to Expect Your Delayed Tax Refund
Wondering when the IRS will finally send your long-awaited tax refund? Here are some general timelines based on why your refund is delayed:
- Additional review: Add 1-2 months
- Missing information: Up to 6 months
- Identity theft: Up to 6 months
- EITC/ACTC credits: Mid-February
- Injured spouse form: Up to 14
While most returns are processed within 21 days, it’s not unusual for refunds to take longer in the situations covered in this article. Here are some final tips on when to expect your money:
- The IRS issues 9 out of 10 refunds within 21 days of return receipt. But exceptions apply.
- Allow an extra 1-2 months if the IRS is reviewing your return for errors or discrepancies.
- Wait up to 6 months if key information is missing from your return or the IRS suspects identity theft.
- Don’t expect your refund until mid-February if you claimed EITC or ACTC, per the new law.
- Up to 14 weeks is the standard timeline if you filed an injured spouse allocation form.
- Check Where’s My Refund daily a few weeks after e-filing or 6 weeks after mailing a return.
- Call the IRS directly if online tools show major delays beyond these timeframes.
The IRS is confronting various challenges, including staffing shortages and budget cuts in recent years. This contributes to longer processing and refund times for some returns. While delays are frustrating, the IRS is working to streamline systems and improve efficiency.
With additional funding from the latest Inflation Reduction Act, the agency hopes to modernize technology and add personnel to get refunds to taxpayers more quickly in future years.
In the meantime, arm yourself with information on refund timing, use online tools to check your status, and remain patient as the IRS works to issue your money as soon as possible.