Where's my tax refund?

Understanding the Process

No matter whether you use old-fashioned pen and paper or rapid-fire e-file, your refund can be designated to return to you via direct deposit to a bank account or as a paper check. Funds can also be placed into an individual retirement account (IRA) or used to buy U.S. Series I Savings Bonds. The IRS also allows taxpayers to split refunds into up to three accounts, so consider that option if you have multiple savings, checking or retirement balances. You will need an Allocation of Refund form to have your refund split, however.

By and large, the fastest route to (moderate) riches is to e-file your return and request a direct deposit refund. People who file electronically can expect a direct deposit refund within 10 to 21 calendar days of sending, or about a month if they've requested a paper check [source: USA.gov]. Returns submitted by paper are usually handled within six to eight weeks after landing in the IRS office [source: IRS]. However you file and request your refund, the vast majority of tax payers will see their money sooner than later. The IRS says it processes 90 percent of tax refunds in fewer than 21 days.

Sadly for some, just because your return shows a specific refund, it doesn't necessarily mean you'll be getting your due. People with outstanding debt have their refunds "offset" to pay back bills like state income tax obligations, owed child support and federal agency non-tax debts, among other charges. The Department of Treasury's Bureau of Fiscal Service (BFS) will typically issue a letter explaining why and how much of your refund was reallocated to existing debt [source: IRS].