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Where's My Refund? Top 5 Reasons It's Been Delayed

Updated for Tax Year 2015


It's a happy day when your federal tax refund arrives. Most taxpayers receive their refund within 21 days of filing, but sometimes the check is not in the mail or deposited to your bank account as quickly as you would like. Often, delays in receiving tax refunds are caused by matters within your control. Once you become aware of the issues that cause delays, you can take steps to avoid them.

1. Silly typos

Handwriting typos

If you spell your name wrong, reverse any digits in your Social Security number (SSN) or use an incorrect home address, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will notice. Sloppy handwriting can cause such errors, but so can being in a hurry. The IRS includes these kinds of typos on its list of common taxpayer mistakes and any one of them is enough to delay your refund.

2. Math mistakes

Man using calculator

Tax returns include lots of math calculations, and the trickle-down theory applies. If you get one calculation wrong — like incorrectly adding, instead of subtracting, deductions — the math error trickles down to later calculations so that your tax return has inaccuracies. Double-check your math to prevent miscalculations and the delays they can cause. Better yet, e-file your return and let trusted software do the calculations for you.

3. More than one filing status

Couple sitting on back of truck

Are you: Married? Divorced? Head of Household? You might think several of these descriptions apply, but that's not the way it works for taxes. You only get one filing status. Filing-status questions are not simply seeking personal information. Your status determines your filing requirements, standard deductions and tax amounts. It pays to understand the different status options and check the correct one for your circumstances — you may end up seeing your refund faster.

4. Incorrect line entries

African-American man writing in home office

If you fill out your tax forms by hand, it's easy to enter numbers on the wrong lines. This may seem like a small matter, but if you accidentally enter your alimony amount one line off, it appears as business income. The IRS will naturally be confused because you will likely be missing other forms for business income and delay processing your tax return until the mistake is cleared up.

5. Early or last-minute tax filing

Old US Mailbox

If you file too early, some of the tax forms you need may not be finalized for handling yet by the IRS. This delays your refund since the IRS won't process a return until their software is ready to handle all necessary tax forms. But filing at the last minute can be just as problematic. If you get the return in just before the tax deadline, you're part of the grand swarm of last-minute filers. The sudden glut of tax returns can cause processing delays.

Best tip: file an electronic return

Electronic filing (e-filing), prevents many common taxpayer missteps that delay refunds, like illegible writing, math miscalculations and entering info on the wrong lines, but e-filing also speeds up your refund even if you haven't made any errors.

Paper returns are processed manually, which usually takes between four and six weeks. In 2015, the IRS warned taxpayers of delays in processing paper returns, suggesting that the minimum turnaround time could be as long as seven weeks.

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The above article is intended to provide generalized financial information designed to educate a broad segment of the public; it does not give personalized tax, investment, legal, or other business and professional advice. Before taking any action, you should always seek the assistance of a professional who knows your particular situation for advice on taxes, your investments, the law, or any other business and professional matters that affect you and/or your business.

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