IRS Highlights Refund Tracker for Electronic Tax Return Filers

By Frank Byrt

With the federal tax-filing season ready to begin January 30, the IRS wants electronic tax filers (e-filers) to know of its improved Where's My Refund? tracking program.  
The IRS has been pushing e-filing for several years, and the latest wrinkle, being able to track one's return through the process, including the timing of the refund, is sure to be another catalyst for taxpayers to take the e-file route. 
The IRS says that e-filers can access information about the status of their 2012 return, and eventually the timing of their refund, beginning within twenty-four hours of the IRS's receipt of their return.
In sharp contrast to the speedy e-filing process, filers whose returns have been prepared on paper and sent in by mail won't be able to check the status of their return for four weeks.
Taxpayers can check the status of their tax return on the IRS website or via the IRS2Go mobile app (see sidebar).
In order to find the returns status, filers will need to provide their Social Security number; filing status (e.g., married, single, head of household); and the exact dollar amount of the expected refund. All that information is on the original tax return.

IRS Where's My Refund? Tracking Guidelines

  • Access a tax return's status via the mobile app IRS2Go or on the IRS website. (IRS2Go is available for Apple and Android devices.)
  • The earliest to check the status of a refund is twenty-four hours after the IRS has received the return.
  • To log in, one must provide his or her Social Security Number, filing status, and exact refund amount.
  • The tracker will display the refund's progress through three stages: (1) return received, (2) refund approved, and (3) refund sent.
  • The IRS system updates overnight, so one only needs to check once a day.
  • Expect the IRS to issue a refund within twenty-one calendar days if e-filed, unless there's a discrepancy or more information is necessary.
The Where's My Refund? link includes a tracker that displays the refund's progress through three stages: (1) return received, (2) refund approved, and (3) refund sent. 
An actual refund date will be available as soon as the IRS processes the return and approves the refund.
The IRS system updates every twenty-four hours, usually overnight, so checking once a day is all that's necessary to track the refund's status.
The IRS states on its website: "Once we start processing returns, we expect to issue refunds within normal time frames. You can generally expect the IRS to issue your refund in less than 21 calendar days after we receive your [e-filed] tax return." 
The IRS has previously required most professional tax return preparers to take the e-filing route. Since last year, any authorized e-file tax return preparer who anticipates preparing and filing eleven or more forms 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ, and 1041 during a calendar year must use IRS e-file,  unless the preparer or a particular return is administratively exempt from the e-file requirement, or the return is filed by a preparer with an approved hardship waiver.
And if the number of applicable income tax returns in any tax preparatory firm with multiple preparers is eleven or more, then all members of the firm generally must e-file, even if a member expects to prepare and file fewer than eleven returns on an individual basis.
The IRS has projected that approximately 70 percent of all individual tax returns will be filed electronically for the 2012 tax year.
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