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Want your tax refund ASAP? Here are 5 pitfalls that can delay your check.

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

The typical U.S. tax refund, which averaged $3,200 in 2022, is often the biggest check a household receives all year. And with inflation still high, some measures show that roughly a third of Americans are counting on their 2023 refund checks to make ends meet.

But getting that payment in hand has proved to be elusive for the millions of taxpayers whose returns were caught up in delays at the IRS during the pandemic. Even with IRS accepting tax returns starting Jan. 23, the agency has a backlog of about 10 million returns yet to process. 

To cope with painfully high inflation, about half of families surveyed by financial services firm Primerica said they have had to tap  their emergency savings. That makes many taxpayers eager to get their hands on their refunds, Mark Steber, chief tax information officer at Jackson Hewitt, told CBS MoneyWatch.

MoneyWatch: How to prepare for tax return changes 02:59

Taxes "are not completed until taxpayers get their money in their pocket," Steber said. "The backlog at the IRS, the challenges at the IRS from lower staffing, has taught us several best practices for getting your money faster."

The IRS says it sends 9 in 10 refunds within 21 days. But the agency has also warned taxpayers this year that they shouldn't bank on getting their checks by any specific date this tax season. Here are 5 tips for avoiding a refund delay. 

Don't file a paper tax return

Paper tax returns are like "kryptonite" to the IRS, according to the National Taxpayer Advocate, the watchdog arm of the IRS. That's because the IRS must manually enter data from paper returns into their computer systems, a process that became unwieldy during the pandemic when many IRS agents worked from home and that led to massive backlogs. 

If possible, file your return electronically, Steber said. "If you e-file — send it to the IRS over the Internet — that can cut weeks or days off your refund timing."

Last year, about 13 million people filed paper out of a total of 164 million returns, down from 17 million in 2019, according to IRS statistics.

Some taxpayers have no choice but to file a paper return because the IRS may not have a specific form available for e-file. That barrier to e-filing was flagged by the National Taxpayer Advocate as a problem for taxpayers in her recent report to Congress.

Don't skip out on direct deposit

Ask the IRS to send your refund via direct deposit to your bank account in order to get your money as quickly as possible, Steber advised. Otherwise, the IRS will mail a paper check to your home, which can take longer to arrive.

The IRS said taxpayers should select direct deposit through their tax software or ask their tax preparer to select the method. The agency will ask for your account and bank routing numbers, which you should double check for errors before submitting.

Don't fudge your numbers

In other words, don't "guesstimate" your income or any other data you need to report on your Form 1040, Steber said. 

"Be precise," he said. "The IRS is pretty good about matching data."

For instance, don't estimate your mortgage interest — make sure you look at the tax form sent by your mortgage lender and write down the same amount on your 1040. Likewise, don't overlook any income, such as a small amount reported on a 1099, which is a form reporting payments from companies that aren't your employer. 

If your tax filing doesn't match the IRS' data, your return will get flagged for review. That could add weeks — or more — to processing time.

Don't forget to check your personal information

Some tax returns get flagged because taxpayers don't check the personal information for errors. 

For instance, sometimes taxpayers might "fat finger" a Social Security number, mistyping a number, which could lead to the IRS flagging the return for review, Steber noted.

Sometimes parents don't record their dependents' Social Security numbers correctly, which can also lead to a red flag going up at the IRS. 

Don't file your return before you have all your tax forms

Sometimes taxpayers are eager to file quickly because they want their tax refund in hand, or they simply want to get the process over with. 

IRS says tax refunds may be smaller this year 04:02

But many taxpayers won't have all their tax forms available to them before January 23, when the IRS starts accepting returns. For instance, employers have until January 31 to send W-2s, or your wage and tax statement for the 2022 year, to their workers. 

And some forms are notorious for arriving late in the tax filing season, such as forms for partnerships like LLCs, which have a deadline of March 15 to be mailed to recipients. 

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