Why People Don’t Get Their Tax Refunds On Time

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The federal government shutdown could cause some people to experience a delay in getting their refunds, as measured against what the Internal Revenue Service says is the normal period. There are some things taxpayers can do to prevent this. Others are outside their hands.

The IRS says that, under normal circumstances, most people who are due a refund will get it in less than three weeks, or a period that the IRS describes as 21 calendar days. Some reasons this could take longer are simple. The IRS says:

Many different factors can affect the timing of your refund after we receive your return. Even though we issue most refunds in less than 21 days, it’s possible your refund may take longer. Also, remember to take into consideration the time it takes for your financial institution to post the refund to your account or for you to receive it by mail.

Several other factors are more complicated, but of these, some are based on taxpayer mistakes. Among those taxpayers can avoid are filings that include errors or are incomplete. Several others are beyond what most taxpayers have the capacity to handle. These include identity theft or fraud, and filings that include claims for an Earned Income Tax Credit or an Additional Child Tax Credit.

Complications also can include what is called an “Injured Spouse Allocation.” These could take as long as 14 weeks to process. Most spouses who file jointly are responsible for the full amount they owe by the time filings are due. The allocation is described as follows:

The IRS defines this as You may be an injured spouse if you file a joint tax return and all or part of your portion of the overpayment was, or is expected to be, applied (offset) to your spouse’s legally enforceable past-due federal tax, state income tax, state unemployment compensation debts, child or spousal support, or a federal nontax debt, such as a student loan.

The final reason a refund may be late is that it “needs further review in general.”

For people who worry about when their refund will come, the IRS has set up a system. After February 23, people can go to Where’s My Refund? on IRS.gov. Those with a mobile device can use the IRS2Go mobile app. Bothering the IRS beyond that, the agency says, will not make refunds come any faster.

So, it’s 21 days, or sooner, with a lot of exceptions.

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