How long does it take to process tax returns?

Federal income tax returns are due each year by April 15. Some people must pay additional taxes and others receive a refund, depending on the individual. Income tax returns can be mailed in or filed electronically by the individual or by a preparer who charges a fee for tax form preparation. You can also bring them to commercial companies that will give you your refund on the spot for a commission and file the return on your behalf.


Filing tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) well before the due date often yields a quicker processing time. Waiting until the last day to file generally means the refund will take longer to process. Mailing returns and receiving a refund by check in the mail is the longest process and can take approximately six to eight weeks. Having the refund sent to your bank account by direct deposit reduces the process by about three weeks.

Time Frame

It can take as few as 10 days for the IRS to process an electronically-filed tax return. The money will be deposited in the designated bank account once the filing has been processed. You can accomplish electronic filing one of three ways. Fill out forms online and turn them in, use computer software to calculate and submit the return or take it to an e-file registered professional to prepare and send it for you.

Owing Money

If you owe additional money, your check should be cashed by the federal government within two weeks of sending it in. If the IRS hasn't cashed the check, call 800-829-1040 to determine whether your account has been credited. Also, the IRS may withhold your refund if it believes you owe money from previous years. The IRS may keep it as debt restitution. If the IRS is mistaken and you don't owe any money, you may appeal the issue.

Tracking Progress

The IRS has a program called Where's My Refund. It allows you to go online and review the status of their tax return. Information is available within three days of IRS receipt of electronically-filed returns. Mailed versions show up in the system three to four weeks after their arrival is acknowledged. You must have the Social Security number on the return, know the tax filing status and the refund amount due to use the program.


When tax returns are filed late, it takes about six weeks to process them if everything is filled out properly. Misspelled names and addresses, unsigned forms, incorrect Social Security numbers and missing information prolong the process. Getting things sent back to be fixed creates delays. Sending past returns to the wrong IRS address increases the time it takes to reach the right office for processing to begin. Amended returns process in about eight to 12 weeks.

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About the Author

A former community newspaper reporter, columnist and photojournalist in Virginia, MJ Knoblock holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has been writing for more than 20 years.

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