While wading through W-2s and 401(k) paperwork may seem daunting, there are plenty of resources to help -- including us! And there is, after all, often a reward at the end: the celebrated refund -- that nice check the government sends when you've gotten a bit too much withheld from your paycheck, or if you earned some other tax credit.
You might be surprised to realize that most people get a refund. In 2012, more than 80 percent of returns resulted in cash back from the government [source: NPR]. Unfortunately, refunds aren't instant. Because magic isn't real, you still have to wait for the government to process your return and either deposit money into your bank account or mail you a check.
And before we get into ways to monitor your refund, we should make it clear that e-filing your taxes is definitely going to result in a faster refund. The IRS says that nine out of 10 folks see their refund within 21 days of filing electronically, but mailed returns may take six weeks or longer [source: IRS]. It makes sense, considering the IRS can accept your return within 24 hours of an e-file. If you send it through the mail and have it checked manually, it can take up to four weeks just to get the return accepted [source: IRS].
Once you do file that return, you can keep track of it with an app on your smartphone. The IRS launched the IRS2Go app in 2011, and it's updated every year for tax season. By entering your Social Security number and the amount of the refund you're expecting, you can check the status of your refund. You can also request tax records (which will be mailed to you) on the app, and even find a local address for free tax preparation services [source: IRS].
The IRS website also provides a status tracker, which -- like the app -- will be able to determine your refund's delivery within 24 hours of filing electronically and four weeks of mailing in your return [source: IRS]. Remember that you'll need to have the exact amount of the anticipated refund ready, along with your Social Security number and filing status.
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS). "Checking the status of your refund." Feb. 24, 2011. (Oct. 21, 2014) http://www.irs.gov/uac/Checking-the-Status-of-Your-Refund
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS). "IRS launches the IRS2Go app for iPhone, Android." Jan. 24, 2011. (Oct. 21, 2014) h ttp://www.irs.gov/uac/IRS-Launches-the-IRS2Go-App-for-iPhone,-Android%3B-Taxpayers-Can-Check-Refunds,-Get-Tax-Information
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS). "IRS refund information guidelines for the tax preparation community." 2014. (Oct. 21, 2014) http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p2043en.pdf
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS. "IRS2Go Mobile App." June 18, 2014. (Oct. 21, 2014) http://www.irs.gov/uac/New-IRS2Go-Offers-Three-More-Features
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS). "Refund status." (Oct. 21, 2014) http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p2043en.pdf
- National Public Radio (NPR). "Tax day isn't bad if you're getting a refund." April 17, 2012. (Oct. 21, 2014) http://www.npr.org/2012/04/17/150787156/tax-day-isnt-bad-if-youre-getting-a-refund