Why is tax return taking so long?

why is my tax return taking so long

If your tax return is taking longer than usual, it may be because it needs further review, usually due to errors or inconsistencies. Sometimes identity theft may also be the cause for delay. The IRS will let you know about the next steps if any are required. 

Ask yourself, “Why is my tax return taking so long”? On average, most people who file their federal taxes and sign up for direct deposit get their refunds within three weeks (about 21 days) of filing. While those who opt-in for a check in the mail can expect between one month up to two.

If you have been waiting longer than those 21 days for a direct deposit or longer than two months for a check, then chances are that your tax return needs further review. 

Your tax refund can help you get out of debt, build an emergency fund, start investing, or take care of other money goals to gain financial independence. And so, like most Americans, you may not want to wait longer than you need for your money this tax season.

The good news is that most of the time, there are practical reasons for a delay that shouldn’t take too long to resolve. And if you are involved in a resolution with the IRS, it may be easier than you think. Below you will find more information on why your tax return may need additional review, causing it to take longer than usual. 

A Quick Rundown

CategoryDetailsRelevance to Consumers 
Filing Deadlines – April 15th for most taxpayers. – October 15th for those who request an extension. Knowing these dates is crucial to avoid penalties for late filing.
Standard Deduction Amounts – Single: $12,550. Married Filing Jointly: $25,100.Head of Household: $18,800.Helps in deciding whether to itemize deductions or take the standard deduction.
Income Tax Brackets – Varies based on filing status and income level. – Progressive rates from 10% to 37%. Understanding your tax bracket can aid in financial planning and estimating tax liability.
Retirement Contribution– 401(k): Up to $19,500. – IRA: Up to $6,000. – Additional catch-up contributions for those 50+. Maximizing contributions can lead to significant tax savings and better retirement planning.
Education Credits – American Opportunity Tax Credit. – Lifetime Learning Credit. These credits can offer substantial savings for those with education expenses.
Healthcare Deductions – Medical expenses exceeding 7.5% of AGI can be deducted. Beneficial for those with high medical expenses, leading to potential tax savings.
Child Tax Credits – Up to $2,000 per qualifying child. – Additional refundable portion available. Crucial for families to understand eligibility and maximize their tax benefits.
Self-Employment Tax– 15.3% of net earnings (Social Security and Medicare).Self-employed individuals must account for this in their tax calculations.
Capital Gains Tax Rates – Short-term: As per income tax bracket. – Long-term: 0%, 15%, or 20%, depending on income. Important for those with investments to understand how gains are taxed.
Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)– Applies to taxpayers with high income, reducing the impact of certain deductions and credits. Awareness of AMT is important for high-income earners to accurately estimate tax liability.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this chart is intended for general informational purposes only and may not apply to all individual circumstances. Tax laws and regulations are subject to change, and it is advisable to consult with a qualified tax professional for personalized advice and to ensure compliance with current tax laws. This chart does not constitute legal or financial advice.

Tax Return Taking So Long? It May Be Because of Incorrect Information 

In most cases, you will find the IRS is reviewing your tax return, and therefore there is a delay due to errors or incomplete information. Knowing some of the common mistakes can help you avoid them in the future:

  1. Inaccurate or missing social security numbers— triple check your social security number on your tax forms for yourself, dependents, and when filing jointly—the second person’s social security number. 
  2. Misspelled names — this is especially common when filing a paper tax return, so make you double-check everyone’s names on your tax return papers before filing. 
  3. Filing status errors — If you are married, make sure to review with your spouse whether you are filing jointly or separately. Make sure that the plan is reflected in your actual tax return documents. 
  4. Calculation errors — sometimes math mistakes can happen when filing on your own or through a tax expert. These mistakes will impact the status of your tax refund. The e-file process catches these common errors, while a paper return may need a double-check. 
  5. Credit and deduction errors
  6. Incorrect bank account numbers — this is important for returns the IRS sends to a bank account via direct deposit. 
  7. Unsigned forms — if your tax forms are not signed, they are not considered valid, and so, don’t forget to sign and date all the different areas of your tax forms. 
  8. Filing with an expired individual taxpayer identification number

Having any of these errors on your tax return documents can also flag it as incomplete. You will need to file an amended return with the IRS to fix these errors. Once these errors are corrected, you can expect a process that can last up to 16 weeks. To check the status of your amended tax return, visit the IRS portal. 

You can also avoid common mistakes by paying a tax professional or filing electronically (e-filing). As for filing a paper return, doing it yourself can mean more errors. Although professional tax professionals and software can be expensive, they can help you avoid having a delayed refund. Keep in mind, filing your taxes late can also delay things, and there may be a penalty. If you need some help to pay for tax return filing, you can look at loan options. There are also bad credit loans, some that are secured loans and others that are unsecured loans

Delayed Tax Refund/Tax Return Based on Claimed Credits

Another reason your return is taking so long to process may be because of certain tax credits. Tax credits can help reduce the taxes you pay, increasing your refund. The following tax credits can cause a delay if they are claimed on tax returns:

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

The earned income tax credit helps low to medium-income families, and individuals get a tax break. To qualify for this tax credit, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Have worked and earned income under $57,414.
  • Be a U.S. citizen or a resident alien all year.
  • Cannot have earned more than $10,000 via investments in the tax year 2021.
  • Have a valid Social Security number by the due date of your 2021 return (including extensions).
  • Not file Form 2555.

Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) 

The additional child tax credit is also available for low to moderate-income families. Income cutoffs range from $75,000 to $200,000, depending on filing status. Those who cannot claim the full Child Tax Credit due to low taxes can claim ACTC instead. Each child tax credit can be worth up to $2,000 for eligible children. To be eligible for this tax credit, your child must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or U.S. resident alien.
  • Be younger than 17 at the end of the tax year.
  • The child has to be your son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister, grandchild, niece, or nephew.
  • You claim them as a dependent.
  • Live with you for more than half of the year.
  • Not provide more than half of their own support.
  • Not file a joint return with anyone else unless the only reason they file a return is to claim a refund of taxes withheld or estimated taxes paid.

Due to Federal laws, the IRS must hold tax refunds that have either or both of these claims on them until the middle of February. And so, if you have claimed these credits and have filed before February, it may take longer than usual for your tax refund to arrive. 

Owing Money to the IRS, Audits, and Identity Theft Issues With Your Tax Return

There are a few other scenarios that can delay the time it takes for you to receive your return and may make things a little more complicated. Your refund may be delayed beyond a few months, and in some cases, you may not be eligible for the tax money. Here are some issues you may run into while trying to fill out your return: 

Owed Taxes and Tax Refunds

Sometimes, during or after filing your return, you may get a notice that you owe taxes; these taxes can be back taxes or current taxes. If you owe money to the IRS, they can take your tax refund to cover those owed debts. So, you may only get a portion of your tax refund or nothing for the current tax year, depending on how much money you owe. 

Audits on Your Tax Returns 

Tax audits happen when the IRS needs to take a closer look at your returns to verify things like income, dependents, and deductions. This typically occurs when they observe abnormal patterns compared to previous returns within IRS records. Refund delays are expected with audits, and individual time will vary depending on your circumstances. You can avoid audits by adding as many details as you can about income, avoiding an amended return, confirming your filing status within your household, and keeping copies of previous returns in case needed. 

Identity Theft or Fraud and Your Tax Refund

Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen personal information to file a return, claiming a fraudulent refund. You will likely find out if this has happened when you go to file your return; you will receive some kind of rejection letter. From here, you will need to submit the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit, which will begin the IRS investigation process. 

In all of these scenarios, the IRS will give you timeline information to move forward with your specific case and tax refund status. 

Can I Call the IRS if My Tax Refund is Delayed?

When your return is taking a long time, your first instinct may be to contact the IRS. However, calling the IRS because your refund is delayed will likely result in little to no help—unless—the “Where’s my Refund” tool tells you to do so. Otherwise, the IRS will contact you by mail if they need more information to process your return. 

The “Where’s My Refund” Tool To Check the Status of Your Refund

The “Where’s My Refund” Tool is available on the IRS’ website and app. It can help you check your most up-to-date status on your most recently filed tax refund. Generally, it will have information 24 hours after you e-file or 4 weeks after you have mailed your return. Tax return status updates are made daily with the “Where’s My Refund” Tool. 

What About My State Tax Refund?

Tax season can also mean filing your state tax refunds if you live in a state with income tax. The great thing about e-filing is that your state taxes are included as a section when you file your federal tax return. Otherwise, you will have to do it separately from your federal income tax return. Your state’s Department of Revenue or Department of Taxation can help you file, check your refund status, get the necessary forms, and answer any questions. 

State refunds vary in time frame depending on where you live. However, you can expect to receive them within 30 days if you filed electronically and up to 12 weeks to get your refund if you filed a paper return. 

FAQ: Tax Return Status

What are the benefits of filing electronically during tax season?

Filing electronically is faster, more secure, and more accurate than paper filing. It reduces the risk of errors, which can delay your tax season refund. Additionally, e-filing often results in receiving your refund quicker, especially if combined with direct deposit to your financial institution.

How can I ensure an accurate return?

To ensure an accurate return on your taxes, double-check all entries for errors, use reliable tax software or a professional tax preparer, and make sure all income and deductions are correctly reported. Accurate reporting helps avoid delays in processing and ensures the correct refund amount.

What are some common tax breaks I should be aware of to maximize tax savings?

Common tax breaks include deductions for charitable donations, education expenses, certain medical expenses, and contributions to retirement accounts. These can significantly contribute to tax savings. Consult a tax professional to understand which tax breaks apply to your situation.

How is my personalized refund date determined?

Your personalized refund date is determined by the IRS based on the date your return is accepted, the method of filing (electronic or paper), and your choice of receiving the refund (direct deposit or check). E-filing and opting for direct deposit can lead to a quicker refund date.

Can I deposit my tax refund in multiple financial institutions?

Yes, the IRS allows you to split your refund among up to three different financial institutions. This can be beneficial for managing savings, checking, and retirement accounts, helping in better financial planning.

What impact do recent tax hikes have on individual returns?

Recent tax hikes may affect higher-income individuals, potentially increasing their tax liability. It’s important to stay informed about changes in tax law and consult a tax preparer to understand how these hikes might impact your tax refund.

How can I track the status of my refund amount?

You can track the status of your refund amount using the IRS’s “Where’s My Refund?” tool. This tool provides the most up-to-date information about your refund and is available 24 hours after e-filing or four weeks after mailing a paper return.

What should I do if I disagree with the refund amount calculated by the IRS?

If you disagree with the calculated refund amount, you should review your return for any discrepancies. If you still believe there’s an error, contact the IRS or seek assistance from a tax preparer for further guidance.

How can I use my return to plan for future tax savings?

Use your return as a tool to plan for future tax savings by analyzing your income, deductions, and credits. Consider adjusting withholdings, increasing retirement contributions, or exploring other tax-saving strategies for the upcoming year.

What should I know about choosing a tax preparer?

When choosing a tax preparer, ensure they are qualified and have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). Look for credentials like CPA, enrolled agent, or attorney, and check their history with the Better Business Bureau or IRS Office of Enrollment.

The Bottom Line With CreditNinja: Tax Returns

The IRS issues refunds within an average of a few weeks, which it takes to process, and once everything looks good, you will get your refund. If you find yourself waiting for your return for longer than the 21-day average, the IRS will let you know about the next steps. Your tax return status can be checked online with the “Where’s my Refund” tool whether you filed a paper return or electronically. 

For most people getting their money ASAP is a priority, and it may be for you too. That tax refund can help you supplement and plan your annual budget, boost your savings, be a start for investing, or mean extra money to have fun with. CreditNinja wants to emphasize that e-filing, filing as early as you can, as accurately as possible, can all help speed up your tax return processing!


  1. Tax Season Refund Frequently Asked Questions | Internal Revenue Service
  2. 2021 IRS Tax Refund Schedule: When Will I Get My Tax Refund? | SmartAsset
  3. What To Know About Tax Identity Theft | FTC Consumer Information
  4. What is the Additional Child Tax Credit? | TurboTax Tax Tips & Videos
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