Despite all the positive economic news and people chomping at the bit to get their federal income tax refund in their cash starved hands, there are certain tax year realities that come with the fervor. One of those is trying to find out when you can actually get the refund deposited into your bank account or dash to cash the check. It is no secret that the silly government shutdown caused a lot of problems for the IRS, but those problems have now slithered over to impact your tax return. The truth is, shutdown or no shutdown, there really is not fixed timetable the general public can rely on to know for sure when they are going to get their refund check. This is the way it has always been, regardless of what you hear or what the IRS tells you.
Yet tucked away in the managed chaos is a law that says the IRS is not allowed to issue you a refund check before February 15th if one of two conditions are true: either you are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) which actually holds up a significant number of refund checks; or if you are using the additional Child Care Tax Credit, which also puts the brakes on getting your refund. The simplest, but not necessarily official, explanation for this is that the IRS needs to get the money from the Single filers to pay for those with kids.
In an officially unofficial statement, the IRS tells people they should expect their refund check in approximately 21 days after the IRS processes your return. This makes electronic filing a much wiser choice since, you know, letters do get lost in the mail. But processing time is not the same as the date of submission, so you’ll want to add at least 5 days to reduce the possibility of blowing a gasket. One other note on filing by mail: the IRS says filing by mail can take as long as 4 weeks to get to the processing bin.
Speaking of paper, if you request a check instead of having your refund deposited into your checking account, add another 14 days to get your refund in-hand. That means that if you submit your tax return by mail, and request a paper check to be mailed to you, chances are that you will not get your money until right about the deadline for filing – April 15. We hope you see the irony about this timing.
Of course, you can use this built-in delay to plan for your summer vacation. If you wait until the deadline to file your return by mail, the check will arrive just in time – when many schools around the country go on summer break. Since the new tax cuts have reduced the refunds of many Americans, you might want to hold off on adjusting that W-4 form until you have this year’s refund check in hand. It will blunt the effect of having to wait.
Because the IRS knows most taxpayers will want to know why their refund didn’t arrive yesterday, they have a Where’s My Refund website (they call it an online tool) where you can check on it 24/7, every 30 minutes or less if you need to. But, like waiting for a bus, looking down the street to see where it is at will not make it come any sooner.
There is always a ray of light to be optimistic about in most things, and when it comes to refunds it is the possibility that you may actually get your refund sooner. There is no statistical evidence to show how many people, if any, actually have experienced this government phenomenon, but there is anecdotal evidence to offer some hope. One has to suspect that people who this has actually happened to are keeping quiet about it, lest they be suspected of conspiring with the IRS and are a part of a larger conspiracy.
There are websites who will create clickbait headlines and articles, announcing they have the actual schedule issued by the IRS to determine the exact day (or plus or minus a day) when you are going to get your refund. The reason we know this simply cannot be true is because the IRS itself doesn’t know how many people will be filing on a specific day.
If your return gets filed on the same day as 20 million other taxpayers, ask yourself what are the chances of having your return processed within the next week. On the other hand, if you submit your return electronically on a day when only 500,000 other people file, you may be one of the lucky early return conspirators. The question is, just how did you know the exact day to file?