June 20, 2024

Tyna Woods

Technology does the job

Hey, IRS, where’s my refund? How to track your 2020 tax return status


Tax refund proving elusive? There may be a reason for that. We’ll show you two ways to try to hunt it down.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you haven’t filed your taxes yet, don’t worry: The 2020 tax season has been extended, with the new Tax Day deadline moved to May 17. It not only gives you some extra time, but the IRS as well, as third stimulus checks are headed out. If you’ve already filed, your refund is likely due any day now. Or is it? Complicated logistics for the newest stimulus check have caused delays with the IRS that could affect your refund’s delivery (and also potentially how much stimulus money you might get). 

As long as it’s been at least 24 hours since you filed, you can start to look in on the status of your 2020 tax return online and find out when your check might arrive. There are two ways to track your refund, and we’ll walk you through exactly how to do it.

See our chart below for some dates your refund could appear. If you still need to file, we suggest doing so online, since e-filing is more convenient for both you and the IRS — the agency is asking people to avoid sending in a paper return this year. We also recommend setting up direct deposit to speed up your refund’s arrival. (While you’re here, this is everything we know about a fourth stimulus check so far, and here are seven tax breaks for 2020.) This story was updated recently. 

2 ways to check your 2020 tax refund status 

You need several things on hand to track the status of your tax refund: your Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, your filing status — for example, single, married or head of household — and your exact refund amount in whole dollars, which can be found on your tax return.

Using the IRS tool Where’s My Refund, enter your Social Security number or ITIN, your filing status and your exact refund amount, then press Send. If you entered your information correctly, you’ll be taken to a page that shows the status of your refund. If not, you may be asked to verify your personal tax data and try again. If all the information looks correct, you’ll need to enter the date you filed your taxes, along with whether you filed electronically or on paper.

There’s also a mobile app, called IRS2Go, that you can use to check your tax refund status. The IRS updates the data in this tool overnight each day, so if you don’t see a status change after 24 hours or more, check back the next day.

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What your IRS tax return status means: Received, approved, sent

Both the IRS tools (online and mobile) will show you one of three messages to explain your tax return status.

  • Received: The IRS now has your tax return and is working to process it.
  • Approved: The IRS has processed your return and confirmed the amount of your refund, if you’re owed one. 
  • Sent: Your refund is now on its way to your bank via direct deposit, or as a paper check to your mailbox. (Here’s how to change your address now if you moved.)

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When you can actually expect your tax refund to arrive

The IRS says it issues most tax refunds within 21 days, but many people typically get their refunds much sooner. However, this year, the IRS is reportedly facing delays complicated by sending out the stimulus checks now (here’s more on stimulus checks and tax season 2020). If there are any errors, it might take the agency longer to process and issue your tax refund. The same goes for people who filed a claim for an Earned Income Tax Credit or the Child Tax Credit

The date you get your tax refund also depends on how you filed your return. For example, with refunds going into your bank account through direct deposit, it could take an additional five days for your bank to post it to your account. This means if it took the IRS the full 21 days to issue your check and your bank five days to post it, you may be waiting a total of 26 days to get your money. 

If it’s being sent by mail, the IRS says it could take six to eight weeks for your tax refund to arrive. That’s where tracking your refund comes in handy. Here are some possible dates when you could receive your refund depending on when you filed. 

When your tax refund could arrive, without a delay

If you file on this date This is the soonest This is the latest
Mar 1 Mar 8 Mar 22
Apr 1 Apr 8 Apr 22
Apr 15 Apr 22 May 6
May 17 (last day to file) May 24 Jun 7
Oct 15 (last day with extension) Oct 22 Nov 5

It’s past the ‘latest’ date for your tax refund to arrive. Should you check with the IRS for more information? 

While you can call the IRS to check your status, the agency’s live phone assistance is extremely limited at this time, so you may wait on hold for a while to speak to a representative. Also, the IRS says you should only call if it’s been 21 or more days since you filed your taxes online or if the Where’s My Refund tool tells you to contact the IRS.

For more information about your taxes, here’s when the 2021 deadline is to file your tax returnhow to claim missing stimulus money on your taxes and everything to know about the third stimulus check.

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