As soon as you hit the submit button on your taxes, do you instantly start wondering, “When can I expect my tax refund?”
The majority of people hate doing taxes. Taxes are complicated, time-consuming and expensive.
But if you think you’re entitled to a tax refund, that can make tax time a little less, well, taxing.
In 2020 the tax filing deadline was July 15 due to COVID-19.
The deadline for getting your tax return filed for 2021 is back to April 15th, which is a Thursday.
Note that new tax laws may change how you do your taxes, so it’s important to get started early enough to take those changes into account.
Here’s everything you need to know about when you can expect your tax refund and how to spend your refund money wisely.
In This Article
- Tax Refund Basics: Should I Hire an Accountant or Tax Advisor?
- When Can I Expect My Tax Refund?
- IRS Refund Schedule Chart (Estimated)
- 13 Other Tax Refund FAQs
- 1. Can I track my refund online?
- 2. What about my state tax refund?
- 3. Will I really receive it within 21 days?
- 4. It’s been longer than 21 days. Should I call the IRS?
- 5. If I call the IRS will I get my refund faster?
- 6. What if I input the wrong bank account number?
- 7. How long does it take for my refund status to change?
- 8. How often is the refund tracker updated?
- 9. Will the tracker work for amended returns?
- 10. I wanted direct deposit. Why is the IRS sending me a check?
- 11. Why is my refund different than the amount on my tax return?
- 12. What should I do if the refund I receive is not from my tax account?
- 13. Will ordering a transcript help me find out more about my refund?
- 6 Great Ways to Spend Your Tax Refund
- How to Pay Fewer Taxes Next Year
Tax Refund Basics: Should I Hire an Accountant or Tax Advisor?
When it comes to filing your taxes, you can choose to file yourself or have an accountant file for you.
If you opt for a tax accountant or CPA, you should expect higher fees than you would with a program like Turbotax. Then again, hiring a professional could be a less stressful route to go.
If you are filing your taxes on your own, be sure to check out the cheapest ways to file your taxes online.
Outsourcing your taxes to a professional might be a good idea if you have a business. Or, if you plan to itemize deductions, have rental properties or have a combination of these scenarios.
Whether you choose to DIY your taxes or use a tax professional, make sure you file your taxes by the due date. That date is April 15th this year.
If you are unable to file by the deadline, you can request an extension. Nevertheless, you may have to pay interest on any money you owe.
Once you file your taxes, you may be wondering when you’ll actually get your money.
The IRS makes this slightly more complicated than just direct depositing the funds into your bank account.
But know that we’re sharing the actual process of getting your tax refund processed.
When Can I Expect My Tax Refund?
The IRS’s official answer is that you can expect your refund in fewer than 21 calendar days. However, be aware that the 21 day countdown starts once your tax return has been approved.
The IRS does not release any formal calendar, but this year, it began taking tax returns on February 12th, 2021. That date is later than normal due to some December 27th tax law changes.
While there is no formal calendar released by the IRS, here is an estimate on when you can expect to receive your tax refund.
This tax refund calendar is based on the 21 days estimated payment cycle.
IRS Refund Schedule Chart (Estimated)
|Tax Return Accepted||Direct Deposit Sent||Paper Check Mailed|
|Feb 12 – Feb 18, 2021||Mar 5, 2021||Mar 8, 2021|
|Feb 19 – Feb 25, 2021||Mar 12, 2021||Mar 15, 2021|
|Feb 26 – Mar 4, 2021||Mar 19, 2021||Mar 22, 2021|
|Mar 5 – Mar 11, 2021||Mar 26, 2021||Mar 29, 2021|
|Mar 12 – Mar 18, 2021||Apr 2, 2021||Apr 5, 2021|
|Mar 19 – Mar 25, 2021||Apr 9, 2021||Apr 12, 2021|
|Mar 26 – Apr 1, 2021||Apr 16, 2021||Apr 19, 2021|
|Apr 2 – Apr 8, 2021||Apr 23, 2021||Apr 26, 2021|
|Apr 9 – Apr 15, 2021||Apr 30, 2021||May 3, 2021|
|Apr 16 – Apr 22, 2021||May 7, 2021||May 10, 2021|
|Apr 23 – Apr 29, 2021||May 14, 2021||May 17, 2021|
|Apr 30 – May 6, 2021||May 21, 2021||May 24, 2021|
|May 7 – May 13, 2021||May 28, 2021||May 31, 2021|
|May 14 – May 20, 2021||Jun 4, 2021||Jun 7, 2021|
However, this schedule is a guideline, and the IRS doesn’t have to adhere to it.
Your refund may come sooner or later than the estimated payout dates. But I recommend not making any huge financial plans based on your refund payment date.
Remember, you’re dealing with the IRS, and delays can (and do) happen.
Besides your refund payment being delayed, there are other common tax refund events that can happen.
To help explain those events, here are some refund FAQs you might like answers to if your tax refund is deferred.
13 Other Tax Refund FAQs
Below are some of the most common questions people ask about their tax refunds.
1. Can I track my refund online?
Yes, the IRS does have a site to track your refunds online.
To start tracking your refund, you will need your Social Security number or TIN.
Along with that, you’ll also need to know your filing status and the exact amount of the refund you’re expecting.
The site should have your information within 24 hours of filing your electronic return.
But if you send a paper return, it can take up to four weeks after filing for your information to show up on the tracking site.
If your status says received, the IRS has received the return and is processing it. Once the IRS approves your return, it will update your status online and give you an estimated return date.
After your tax refund has been approved, the IRS will direct deposit the funds to your bank account.
If you didn’t give them bank account information or if you asked to receive a check, they’ll send you a check instead.
Most direct deposit refunds are completed within two to three business
If you opted to receive a check, it takes much longer to process. Usually, it is an additional two weeks, as it is not expedited and is sent without priority mail.
With the Where’s My Refund tool, you can track the entire tax refund process. You can see when your return was received and when the funds were sent to your bank account.
2. What about my state tax refund?
Everything discussed so far is in regards to your federal tax refund. If you have a state tax refund as well, the timeline might be different, as they are separate transactions.
State tax refunds are typically processed within 30 days if you filed electronically. But know that if you filed a paper return, they could take several weeks to process.
You might be wondering if your state has a tool to track your refund like the Where’s My Refund tracker tool. The answer is that some states do, and others don’t.
If you have questions about your state tax refund status, check your state’s department of r
3. Will I really receive it within 21 days?
There are a lot of different factors that will affect the timing of when you actually receive your tax refund. While the IRS says it will usually take less than 21 days, it can take longer.
Alternatively, some people receive their refunds quite quickly. However, I wouldn’t count on that.
Personally speaking, I have received most refunds within 13-17 days over the past three years. And the IRS also says that nine out of 10 people receive their refunds within 13 days.
But remember, the payment is delayed with bank holidays and weekends. It will take longer if you choose to receive a paper check instead of direct deposit too.
4. It’s been longer than 21 days. Should I call the IRS?
I would recommend staying patient for a few more days before contacting the IRS. There are several typical reasons for delayed tax returns:
- There were errors when you filed your return
- Something is incomplete, and the IRS might need more information
- You were victim to identity theft in the past year
- You filed Form 8379 [Injured Spouse Allocation] (This could add 14 days to the time when your tax refund is sent)
If you had an error or the IRS needs more information, they will reach out via
You can call the IRS at 1-800-829-1954 or 1-800-829-4477 and speak with a representative to learn more about your tax refund.
5. If I call the IRS will I get my refund faster?
From what I’ve read, no, it will not speed up the process. Also, I imagine this would be as much fun as calling about a lost passport or contacting the DMV.
According to the IRS website, they are unable to review the status of your refund until it is at least 21 days after you filed online.
If you filed with mail-in tax forms, they can’t access your refund until six weeks later.
6. What if I input the wrong bank account number?
I’ve made this error in the past. If you’re even one digit off on an account or routing number for your bank account, the IRS will not be able to direct deposit your tax refund.
Once you’ve submitted your tax return, you can’t edit your information. The IRS will default to sending you a check to the address listed on your return.
Note that this process will add a few weeks to your return time.
7. How long does it take for my refund status to change?
It usually takes a few days for your tax refund status to change from “return received” to “refund approved”. However, it could take longer depending on your tax situation.
8. How often is the refund tracker updated?
The Where’s My Refund tracker is only updated once per day, typically at night. For that reason, there is no need to refresh the tracker throughout the day.
9. Will the tracker work for amended returns?
No, the tracker is only good for regular tax returns, not amended ones. However, there is a separate tracker, Where’s My Amended Return, that lets you track your amended return.
All amended returns are processed manually and take longer to process than a regular tax return.
As a result, you won’t want to contact the IRS within four months of sending an amended return since they are unable to access your returns before then.
10. I wanted direct deposit. Why is the IRS sending me a check?
Although rare, this happens for three main reasons:
- The account you entered is not in your name or is a joint account with your spouse (Have your name spelled correctly and make sure it matches the exact name on your bank account)
- Your bank or financial institution may reject the direct deposit
- The IRS cannot deposit more than three electronic refunds into one account
11. Why is my refund different than the amount on my tax return?
If you have past due amounts on specific taxes, all or part of your refund will be used for payments due.
These past-due taxes could include:
- State income tax
- Federal tax
- State unemployment compensation debts
- Spousal support
- Child support
- Federal non-tax debts like student loans
Sometimes the IRS will alter your refund amount if they have made any changes to your taxes. They will alert you in the Where’s My Refund tracker if this happens.
12. What should I do if the refund I receive is not from my tax account?
In some instances, the IRS will make an error and send a check or direct deposit to the wrong recipient. However, if you get an incorrect refund, you don’t want to cash the check or use the money.
If this happens to you, follow these steps.
13. Will ordering a transcript help me find out more about my refund?
No, a tax transcript will not shed any more light on when you will receive your tax refund. But transcripts are great for keeping for your records and can validate your past income.
They can also help with loan applications for student loans or
Once you finally receive your tax refund, you might want to spend it all on fun stuff. But there are tons of better ways to spend your tax refund.
6 Great Ways to Spend Your Tax Refund
It’s understandable to feel relieved and excited when you
But it’s important to not just mindlessly spend the money. Instead, use it to reach your financial goals.
Here are six great ways to spend your tax refund:
1. Increase Your Emergency Fund
Did you know that 52% of the population can’t afford to pay for a $1,000 unexpected expense without using a credit card?
For that reason, you might want to put some of your tax refund money into your emergency fund. And if you haven’t started one, now is a perfect time to open an emergency fund.
Be sure to always keep your emergency fund in a high yield savings account as opposed to a CD or retirement account. CD and retirement accounts have fees for withdrawing the money early.
Work your way up to having at least six months’ salary saved in one of these high yield bank accounts.
2. Start Saving for Retirement
Once you have an emergency fund, it’s time to start thinking about your future retirement and investing your money in a retirement account.
While you can’t use your tax refund for a 401K as contributions need to come from earned income, opening or contributing to an IRA is another great option.
Thanks to compound interest, the earlier you start investing, the more you will be rewarded in the future.
3. Pay Down Debt
An unexpected tax refund is a great way to make additional payments toward any outstanding debt.
Start paying down debt with the highest interest or highest amount to save tons of money on interest.
For more information on paying off debt, be sure to check out our program, Debt Free in 18 Months.
If you do, you’ll learn how Well Kept Wallet founder Deacon Hayes paid off $52,000 in 18 months!
4. Open a 529 College Savings Plan
If you’ve been in debt, you likely don’t want your child to face the average $30,000 in student loan debt upon graduation. Opening
The best part is that a 529 college savings plan is tax-free as long as the recipient uses the money for college expenses!
5. Start a Side Hustle
Most side hustles are cheap to start, but there still may be fees and expenses associated with them.
How about using your tax refund to fund your first side hustle and earn more money outside of your 9-5?
Check out these creative side hustles to start making money today!
6. Enjoy Yourself
If you’re doing one or several of the above tips, use some of the money from your tax refund to enjoy yourself.
For example, you could take your spouse to a nice dinner, book a quick weekend getaway, or do something else that your family will enjoy.
Life is all about balance. That means you can reward yourself a bit for paying off debt and saving for your future.
How to Pay Fewer Taxes Next Year
Once you have submitted your taxes, start looking at ways you can pay less in taxes next year. Here are some easy ways to look ahead to next year and pay the lowest taxes possible.
Contribute to Retirement Funds
One of the easiest ways to reduce your taxes is by contributing to a traditional IRA or employer-sponsored 401K.
While there are differences in the two accounts, both will lower your taxable income for the following year. As far as limits go, you can contribute up to $19,500 in a 401K and $6,500 in an IRA for 2020.
If you’re able to max out your 401K and traditional IRA, you can deduct $26,000 from your taxable income!
Note that those over age 50 can make additional “catch-up” contributions to 401k and IRA accounts too.
However, even if you can only invest $1,000 into a retirement fund, it will help you save money on taxes and start saving for your future.
And it all adds up, thanks to the wonder of compound interest.
Get Started Early
The sooner you start and file your taxes, the quicker you will receive your tax refund.
Besides, if you get started early, you can take your time and see if it makes sense to itemize deductions or not.
The new tax laws may indeed mean it makes more sense for many people to take the standard deduction and not itemize. However, you might find that you can benefit from itemizing.
Examples of some items you could deduct are job searching expenses, large charitable donations and unreimbursed business expenses.
Remember, the upcoming tax deadline for 2021 is Thursday, April 15. If you can, file your taxes before the deadline or apply for an extension if you are unable to have them completed by that date.
And if you have a complicated situation, a tax accountant might make things easier and save you more in tax breaks.
When it comes to filing your taxes and getting your refund as fast as possible, it’s helpful to file online and choose direct deposit for payment.
This option is best because sending in a paper return or requesting a check for payment will add weeks to getting your tax refund.
The IRS’s Where’s My Refund tracking tool and mobile app are great resources for following your tax refund from beginning to end.
While you should get your tax refund within 21 days, sometimes it may take longer, and you might need to provide more information.
Make sure you file on time, enter the correct bank account information and avoid contacting the IRS unless it is after the 21-day deadline.
Before you spend any of your tax refund money, find a way to align it with your current financial goals. Then, use it to help fund those goals.
What do you plan to do with your tax refund from 2020? Spend, save it or invest it? Let us know in the comments