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How to get your tax return faster in 2021

By Rebecca Lake
January 11, 2021
  1. How long does it take to get a tax refund?
  2. What is the fastest tax refund time?
  3. When can I expect my refund in 2021?
  4. How to get tax refund money faster in 2021
  5. What happens if your refund hasn't arrived yet?
  6. The bottom line: Plan now to get your tax refund faster

Who doesn’t love a tax refund? Whether you want to step up your savings account or pay down debt, it can be a nice little boost to your bank account (especially after all that holiday spending.)

If you’re wondering how to get your tax return faster than the traditional time window, this one’s for you!

How long does it take to get a tax refund?

According to the IRS website, 9 out of 10 refunds are issued in 21 days or less. 

Here are a few factors that can affect how long you’ll have to wait for your tax refund:

  • How you sent in your return (i.e. electronically or paper filing)
  • When you submitted your return
  • Which tax credits you claimed
  • Your chosen refund method (i.e. direct deposit or paper check)

How long it takes to get your tax refund can also depend on the accuracy of your tax return. For example, if you submitted a return with errors or the income information doesn’t match up with what the IRS has on file, that could cause a delay. Your refund could also take longer if it’s selected for further review or is otherwise incomplete. 

What is the fastest tax refund time?

When you’re ready to file your taxes, you can either e-file or mail in a paper return. If you’re owed a refund, you can get it through direct deposit into your bank account or through a paper check. 

Out of all the options, the IRS touts e-filing and requesting direct deposit as the fastest, safest way to file your taxes and get your refund in less time.

When can I expect my refund in 2021?

If you’re filing your taxes electronically and requesting direct deposit in 2021, there shouldn’t be any delays in getting your refund. In other words, the same 21-day window applies. 

Filing by mail, however, could result in delays. The IRS has said that COVID-19 mail processing delays could mean you might be waiting longer to receive your refund. In general, the IRS advises to wait at least four weeks after mailing in your return to check your refund status. And once you receive a paper check, you may still have to wait several business days for it to clear after depositing it to your bank account.

How to get tax refund money faster in 2021

If you’d like to get your tax refund as quickly as possible this year, there are a few things you can do to potentially cut down on the wait.

1. File sooner, rather than later

The IRS typically begins accepting tax returns in the second half of January. Getting your tax return in early is a simple way to get your refund faster. It’s also a good way to combat tax refund fraud. This happens when scammers fraudulently file a tax return using your information in order to claim your refund for themselves. Tax refund fraud remains on the IRS’ “dirty dozen” list of tax scams to be aware of.

2. E-file your return

Again, e-filing is the fastest and safest way to get your tax refund, according to the IRS. For 2021, you may be able to file your taxes electronically for free through the IRS Free File program. The Free File program partners with online tax prep companies and offers free filing of your federal return if you had an adjusted gross income of $72,000 or less in 2020. 

3. Request direct deposit of your tax refund

While you can request a paper check when you e-file or file a paper return, that’s not the fastest way to get your tax refund. Direct deposit into a bank account, on the other hand, makes it easier to get your refund in 21 days or less. 

If you’d like to split your refund between a checking account and a savings account, the IRS does allow you to do that. In fact, you can split your refund among up to three different financial institutions as long as they all accept direct deposit.

Pro Tip: If you don’t have a bank account yet, you may want to open one ahead of your filing so you have a place to deposit your refund faster. Chime, for example, allows you to open a bank account and use the direct deposit feature to deposit your tax refund. 

4. Double-check your return before you file

Before you hit send on your e-filed return, take time to review all the information you’ve entered. Specifically, check to make sure that you’ve accurately entered:

  • All of your income, including money earned from side hustles
  • Any details related to tax deductions or credits
  • Your personal information, including your name, address and Social Security Number
  • Your bank account details, if you’re requesting direct deposit 

Pro Tip: It’s particularly important to double-check your bank account information. On the off-chance that you enter one wrong number, your refund could be deposited into someone else’s bank account by mistake. In that scenario, the IRS assumes no responsibility for correcting the error.

5. Track your refund after you file

Once you’ve double-checked your return for accuracy and sent it to the IRS, the clock starts ticking on when you’ll receive your refund. You can use the IRS Where’s My Refund? tool to keep tabs on its progress. This tool lets you see:

  • When the IRS received and accepted your return
  • When your refund amount was approved
  • When the refund was sent to your bank account

To use this tool, you’ll just need to enter your complete Social Security Number, your filing status and the dollar amount of your refund. It’s updated once a day with the latest information about your tax return and refund status. 


What happens if your refund hasn't arrived yet?

If you e-filed your return and asked for direct deposit but you still haven’t received your money by the end of the 21-day window, you can ask the IRS for help in tracking your refund. If you filed a paper return, you can also ask for help finding your refund at the 6-week mark. 


Pro Tip: You'll need to call the IRS refund hotline at 1-800-829-1954. Or if you filed an amended return, call 1-866-464-2050. (Just be prepared for a potentially long hold time.)

The bottom line: Plan now to get your tax refund faster

The sooner you begin preparing for tax season, the better chance you’ll get your refund faster. Some of the ways you can do that now include gathering documentation for any deductions or credits you plan to claim and making sure your employers have up-to-date information on where to mail your W-2s. And consider what you plan to do with the money once you have it as well to make the most of your tax refund. 

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