Federal Tax Return Process - Check Status, Get Refund, Pay Bill

IRS Processing Times for Tax Returns

Expected wait time for the IRS to process your tax return and begin the process of issuing your tax refund check depends on how you filed your taxes for that year.  If you filed electronically the IRS typically processes those returns in three weeks or less. If you paper filed and sent your tax forms in the mail, the process time jumps up to six to eight weeks.

These processing times are subject to change based on how busy the IRS is and when you file - electronic filing could take as few as 7-14 days to process if you don't wait until the deadline when their servers are more full. Same for paper filing - they can process in as quickly as four weeks if they are less busy. Filing as early as you are allowed is the best option to get the quickest return. 

While a majority of tax returns file within these time frames, some returns can take longer to process. Of note, if you claim the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit your refund may experience a hold; the IRS can't issue these refund checks until at least mid-February and its most usually the first week of March.

Your tax return can also be flagged if the IRS needs additional information or the information you entered wasn't correct. Be sure and refer to the next section to learn how to stay on top of estimated wait times and where the IRS is in the process by using the Check My Refund Status tool.

Check Status of Your Tax Return

You can check the status of your tax return 24 hours after e-filing or 4 weeks after mailing it in. The IRS updates this system every 24 hours. To check the status of your tax return or refund you’ll need three pieces of information - your Social Security number, your filing status and your exact tax refund amount down to the whole dollar. 

Refund or Payment PortalsPertains ToUse This Resource If..
Check My Federal Refund StatusIndividuals expecting a tax refundYou want to check the status of a filed federal tax return or refund check.
IRS2Go appIndividuals expecting a tax refund or need to pay their tax billYou want to check your refund status or pay a bill using the IRS mobile app
Where’s My Amended Return?Individuals who filed an amended tax return using Form 1040-XYou want to check the status of your amended federal tax return

Get Your Tax Refund

Once your tax return has been processed by the IRS you have two different options for receiving your federal tax refund - get a refund check in the mail or have the refund directly deposited into your bank account.  Here is a breakdown of both options:

Direct Deposit.

A vast majority of Americans take advantage of this option as its the most hassle-free and fastest way to get a federal tax refund. Setting up Direct Deposit when you file means you won’t have to worry about cashing a check or deal with the possibility of a lost or stolen check in the mail.

Direct Deposit is a free service run by the IRS, the same banking service they use to issue Social Security and other government checks, so it is very secure and time tested. You can also have your refund deposited in up to 3 different bank accounts, including an IRA or even purchase up to $5000 in US Series I Savings Bonds. You have the option to get your refund check via direct deposit whether you file electronically or paper file through the mail. If you select more than 3 accounts for your refund the remaining balance has to be mailed to you (this new rule prevents any possibility of fraud).

There are no official time tables anymore for the IRS to deposit funds into your account once your tax return has been processed. But you can expect to wait anywhere from one day to two weeks as the IRS prefers to do direct deposit transactions in bulk and releases funds in chunks based on when returns are processed. And it typically takes one to five days for your refund check to clear with your bank.

In the Mail.

Tax return checks are sent in the mail through USPS and typically take 3 to 5 business days to deliver once sent. Keep in mind processing times for paper filing tax returns are longer than e-filing and can take up to eight weeks.

The IRS also prefers to mail out refund checks in bulk, mailing checks in chunks based on when returns are processed. Unfortunately there is no official time table with exact dates for when checks are issued, but you can expect to wait up to a week or so after your return has been processed before your check is officially in the mail. This way the IRS can send out a bunch of checks at once. Be sure to routinely use the Check My Refund Status IRS tool to see where the IRS is in the process (link in above section).

Pay Your Tax Bill

If you expect to owe federal taxes after filing you can use the federal links below to pay your tax bill either by Direct Pay with your bank account, a debit card or a credit card. Payment plans and all other payment methods are also available and included in this table. 

Refund or Payment PortalsPertains ToUse This Resource If..
Pay Your Federal TaxesIndividuals that owe taxes after filingYou need to pay federal income tax or check your account balance
IRS2Go appIndividuals expecting a tax refund or need to pay their tax billYou want to check your refund status or pay a bill using the IRS mobile app
Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS)Individuals looking for an additional payment portal to pay their tax billYou have an EFTPS account already setup and opt to pay your tax bill through this service
Pay Taxes by Electronic Funds WithdrawalIndividuals who filed with a tax preparation software or tax professionalYou filed with tax software or with a tax professional and want an integrated payment option
Same-Day Wire Federal Tax PaymentsIndividuals looking to pay tax bill via same-day wire transferYou prefer to pay your tax bill via a same-day wire transfer from your bank
Pay by Check or Money OrderIndividuals looking to pay tax bill via check or money orderYou prefer to pay your tax bill via check or money order
Apply Online for a Payment PlanIndividuals that owe taxes after filing and want to setup a payment planYou cannot pay your tax bill in full or would benefit from arranging a payment plan for your tax bill
Offer in CompromiseIndividuals who cannot afford to pay their tax bill in fullYou cannot afford to pay your tax bill and wish to apply for settlement amount with the IRS