The IRS says your tax refund may be late this year. Here’s how to receive it as soon as possible

The IRS says the best way to prevent a refund delay is filing an accurate tax return electronically as early as possible.

Lisa Rabasca Roepe

By 

Lisa Rabasca Roepe

Lisa Rabasca Roepe

Contributing Reporter

Lisa Rabasca Roepe is a contributing reporter at Policygenius, where she covers personal finance and insurance news. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Fast Company, Wired, Business Insider, Quartz, The Atlantic's CityLab, and the Boston Globe.

Published January 27, 2022 | 4 min read

Policygenius content follows strict guidelines for editorial accuracy and integrity. Learn about our editorial standards and how we make money.

Woman reading documents

The IRS is warning taxpayers to prepare for another year of tax refund delays. The agency says the best way to prevent a refund delay is filing an accurate tax return electronically as early as possible.

The IRS is promising to send tax refunds in fewer than 21 calendar days if you file online and choose direct deposit, but some tax experts aren’t too optimistic. Even as late as December 2021, the agency was still working through a backlog of millions of 2020 returns. 

“We definitely saw that refunds were slower last year than usual and that was probably related to the reconciliation of the stimulus payments,” says April Walker, lead manager for tax practice and ethics at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. 

Other factors can also contribute to a delay, like stimulus payments. We asked experts how to make sure you’re not waiting months for your 2021 refund.

Don’t wait for your W-2 

It’s common practice to wait for your employer to send you a W-2 form before filing your taxes, but there are other ways to access that information when you file electronically, says Lisa Greene-Lewis, a certified public accountant at TurboTax. 

You can most likely look up your W-2 information and automatically import it into your tax return, Greene-Lewis says. Electronically uploading the information into your tax return form will also eliminate any mistakes that could happen if you enter it manually, she says. 

Even if errors are unlikely, it’s crucial to scan for mistakes or omissions on your tax forms. Make sure the income on your report matches your W-2 form and that you use accurate Social Security numbers for you, your spouse, and your dependents. 

“What’s more important than filing early is filling out the return correctly,” Walker says. “If there is an error on the return, the IRS will immediately flag the return.”

Once you file a return you can track your tax refund using the IRS’ free "Where’s My Refund" tool. If you find yourself waiting longer than 21 days for your check, there isn’t much you can do besides checking the status on the IRS website, Walker says. If you have an IRS account, you can look up your tax information online, she says.  

Report any stimulus payments 

Your refund could look different this year because of stimulus payments, expansions in the tax code, and provisions in the American Rescue Plan

“There are a variety of changes people will notice when filing taxes this year,” says Kathy Pickering, chief tax officer of H&R Block. Tax expansions are designed to help the U.S. economy and families recover from the pandemic, Pickering says. 

It may take the time for the IRS to process refunds that include stimulus payments, says Walker. For example, if you received a Child Tax Credit this year your refund could be delayed, she said. It’s important to report any income you received from stimulus packages because any misreported income can stall your refund. 

“You want to make 100% sure you have the right amount,” Walker says. You can look up information about your tax credits and stimulus payments using your IRS account, she says.

The IRS will send Letter 6419 to you if you receive Child Tax Credit payments. Walker recommends waiting to file your return if you’re expecting this tax form. Be aware that if you’re married, filing jointly, you will get two letters because a payment was made to each spouse. 

If only one of you received a letter, don’t just double the payment and assume it’s correct, Walker warns. “This is definitely not the year to make any assumptions.” 

Find a tax advisor

If your taxes are more complicated this year you may want to find a reputable advisor.

There are different certifications a tax advisor can receive. A certified public accountant can help you prepare your taxes and offer broader tax advice. A certified financial planner can advise you on tax preparation, financial planning, and retirement. You should narrow your advisor search based on your financial needs and goals. 

If you want to stick with electronic filing, services like H&R Block and TurboTax give you access to live advisors who can guide you through the filing process and answer questions. The IRS website also has resources to help you file your taxes and depending on your income level, you might qualify for free help preparing your taxes.

Before turning over your documents to a tax preparer, make sure you do your due diligence. When you’re comparing tax advisors, consider the type of advice you need and how much you can afford to pay.  

“A tax pro can help navigate all of these changes and make a real difference with this filing season,” Pickering says.

Image: Marko Geber / Getty