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How Long Does It Take to Get a Tax Refund?

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You’ve filed your tax returns and found out you’ll be getting money back from the government this year. However, you won’t see that money right away, even if you filed electronically. Several factors affect how soon (or late) you’ll receive your tax refund. For instance, the quickest way to get your refund is to e-file and choose direct deposit, but you could still experience delays if there are errors in your return or you elected to file too close to the May 17 tax deadline.

As tempting as it is to refresh your banking app every hour until that sweet refund money magically appears, it’s far from the most productive thing you could do with your time. Instead, check out the schedule below to see when you should expect to get a tax refund — and find out what could be holding it up.

2021 Tax Refund Schedule

E-File With Direct Deposit: 1-3 Weeks

This is the quickest way to get your tax refund. If you file online and have direct deposit set up, you could have your refund in as little as a week. At the most, it’ll take up to three weeks for your refund to arrive in your bank account.

E-File With Paper Check: 1 Month

Filing online doesn’t mean you’ll automatically receive a tax refund by direct deposit. You can opt to have a paper refund check sent to you instead. However, it could take about a month after your return is processed for the IRS to cut you a check.

Paper File With Direct Deposit: 3 Weeks

It’ll take some time for your tax return to reach the IRS if you file by mail, especially in light of the pandemic. Once your paper return is accepted and processed, your tax refund should be directly deposited into your bank account within 21 days.

Paper File With Paper Check: 2 Months

This method is not recommended as it’s the most time-consuming, but there may be circumstances when doing everything on paper is necessary. (For instance, maybe you have to prepare a return for someone who passed away last year.) In this case, expect to have a refund check in your hands in two months.

Where Is My Tax Refund?

You can check the status of your tax refund through the IRS Where’s My Refund? tracker 24 hours after e-filing or four weeks after sending a paper return. If it’s been more than 21 days since your return was accepted and you haven’t gotten your tax refund, contact the IRS.

The IRS is processing mailed-in tax returns in the order in which they’re received. Due to COVID-19, paper tax returns may take longer to process than usual, which in turn could affect the timing of your tax refund.

Filing early or late may hold up your tax refund since these are generally high-volume times for the IRS. The closer you file to the May 17 tax deadline, the more your refund could be delayed.

Errors in your tax return — whether you filed electronically or by mail — can also delay your tax refund. Should that be the case, the IRS will contact you by mail and request more information.

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Alison Barretta
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Alison is a freelance writer and editor from Philadelphia who specializes in skincare & beauty, lifestyle, and general…
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