The most trending tax and financial industry issues.

Author Picture

Lane Keeter, CPA

Partner: Tax Consulting, Estate Planning, and Heber Springs Managing Partner

Expecting a Tax Refund? Here’s When You Can Expect It.

Happy New Year (it's not too late to say that, is it?)!

Are you, like many Americans, starting to think about this tax season and when you'll get your IRS income tax refund?

The tax reform law that hit in early 2018 will still have an effect on many Americans, with the tax returns they file from January through April 15, 2020 affecting the amount of their refunds.

Several factors can determine when a taxpayer may receive their return, including:

  • When they file
  • If the taxpayer is claiming certain credits
  • Whether the return is e-filed or sent by mail
  • Whether the taxpayer has existing debts to the federal government

The income tax season generally starts in late January, when the IRS officially starts accepting e-filed and mailed-in tax returns. However, in recent years, the start of tax season has often been delayed until early February, due to significant December changes to the tax laws. As my last column stated, Congress did it to us again this year by passing new tax laws in late December. Fortunately, only a few items were changed and the IRS was anticipating most of them, so tax season will start January 27, just a little later than normal.

The IRS is also continuing to delay processing by 2-3 weeks those income tax returns claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Child Tax Credit (CTC), since these credits have often been abused. The additional time allows the IRS to verify that taxpayers qualify for the credits.

The table below shows an estimated timeline for when a taxpayer is likely to receive their refund, based on the information we have now, and using projections based on previous years. If your IRS income tax refund is delayed, ask your tax professional, or simply use the "Where's My Refund?" tool on the IRS website. You can also download the "IRS2Go" app to check your refund status.

IRS Accepts Between These Dates --- > Direct Deposit Sent (Or Check Mailed)

01/27/20- 01/31/20 --- > Friday 02/07/20

02/03/20- 02/07/20 --- > Friday 02/14/20 * 

02/10/20- 02/14/20 --- > Friday 02/21/20 *

02/17/20- 02/21/20 --- > Friday 02/28/20

02/24/20- 02/28/20 --- > Friday 03/06/20

03/02/20- 03/06/20 --- > Friday 03/20/20 ** 

03/09/20- 03/13/20 --- > Friday 03/27/20

03/16/20- 03/20/20 --- > Friday 04/03/20

03/23/20- 03/27/20 --- > Friday 04/10/20

03/30/20- 04/03/20 --- > Friday 04/17/20

04/06/20- 04/10/20 --- > Friday 04/24/20

04/13/20- 04/17/20 --- > Friday 05/01/20

04/20/20- 04/24/20 --- > Friday 05/08/20

04/27/20- 05/01/20 --- > Friday 05/15/20

05/04/20- 05/08/20 --- > Friday 05/22/20

05/11/20- 05/15/20 --- > Friday 05/29/20   

05/18/20- 05/22/20 --- > Friday 06/5/20

05/25/20- 05/29/20 --- > Friday 06/12/20

06/01/20- 06/05/20 --- > Friday 06/19/20

* = Returns with EITC or CTC may have refunds delayed until late February to verify credits.

** = Filing during peak season can result in slightly longer waits.

If you file electronically, the IRS will notify you of the actual date they "accepted" your return. This is often 1-3 days from the time you actually hit the "file" or "submit" button, and it is this date that you need to use for the above chart.

Taxpayers who mail a paper version of their income tax return can expect at least a 3-4 week delay at the front-end of the process, as the return has to be manually entered into the IRS system before it can be processed.

Taxpayers who use a professional, such as a CPA or EA, can ask that professional for the estimated date of their tax refund, and they can be more confident that their taxes have been properly (and legally) filed. There are also apps for Apple, Android and other devices that help track refund status.

In general, the IRS says that returns with refunds are processed and payments issued within 21 days. For paper filers, this can take much longer, however. Because of this, the IRS and tax professionals strongly encourage electronic filing.

What If You Can't File Your Income Taxes By April 15?

Taxpayers who don't have all of the paperwork needed in order to file their taxes can easily file an extension form, "Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return." This will give you until October 15 to file your tax return. No reason or excuse is needed to receive this extension. As the title states, it is automatically granted.

It is important to note, however, that if you file for an extension and will owe taxes, it is still your obligation to pay those taxes by April 15. The extension is granted to file a return, not to pay your tax. A professional can assist with this. Those who are due a refund generally only need to file the extension request by April 15.

Prev Next