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How long will it take to get your tax refund?

What Americans need to know about tax season
With tax season starting, what do Americans need to know before filing their returns? 04:06

Americans can't be blamed for feeling apprehensive about their tax refunds this year. After all, millions of returns got backed up at the IRS during the pandemic, and the agency recently warned taxpayers not to bank on getting their checks by any specific date when they file in 2023.

Tax refunds typically are the biggest check that a household receives each year, with last year's payment averaging almost $3,300. Almost 70% of taxpayers are anxious about their refunds this year, and 1 in 5 are worried their refund will be delayed in 2023, according to a new Bankrate survey. 

While it can seem like your tax forms are sent into a black hole, the IRS has provided some data and guidance about how long you are likely to wait for your check. Here's what to know. 

How long will it take to get my refund? 

The IRS says the vast majority of refunds are issued within less than 21 calendar days

How long will it take if I filed a paper return? 

Tax experts have warned that filing paper tax forms will slow down your refund because the IRS systems aren't equipped to process them quickly. 

And the IRS agrees. "If you filed on paper, it may take 6 months or more to process your tax return," the agency warns. In the best-case scenario, it says, a paper tax return could have you waiting about four weeks for a refund.

Can I track the progress of my refund? 

People who have e-filed can check their tax return's progress through the "Where's My Refund?" site 24 hours after their return was filed, the IRS notes. 

But taxpayers who file by paper may not be able to get information from "Where's My Refund?" until four weeks after they mail their return, the tax agency said. 

What will "Where's My Refund?" tell me? 

The IRS says that "Where's My Refund" will give you a "personalized refund date" after the agency processes your return and approves your refund. 

The tracker will tell you:

  • When the IRS received your return, which means the agency is processing your tax forms.
  • When the refund is approved, which means the IRS is preparing to send your refund to your bank or mail a check to you.
  • When the refund is sent.

The IRS has had a lot of delays. What about this year? 

The IRS started the tax season with a backlog of about 10 million tax returns, but the agency has been hiring more staff to help work through that and also deal with this year's filing season. 

So far, Americans are filing their taxes earlier than last year, with 36.9 million returns filed through February 17, an increase of about 3% compared with the same time a year earlier, according to IRS data. 

But the IRS is also processing claims faster than in 2022, with 36.8 million returns processed through February 17 — an increase of 10% from a year earlier. 

To be sure, that doesn't guarantee smooth sailing for your tax return. Errors or other issues can cause tax returns to get flagged for an agent's review, which will hold up your return — and your refund.

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