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Tracking Down Your Tax Refund

You're getting a tax refund so you filed early. So where's your check?

Well you can stop bugging your mail carrier. There are more productive ways to track down your Internal Revenue Service cash.

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Now you can go online or call a special toll-free number to check your refund status, regardless of whether you're awaiting a check in the mail or you've instructed the IRS to directly deposit your tax cash into multiple accounts.

The waiting game
Since 2003, taxpayers have been able to use the IRS' "Where's My Refund?" Web page to track down refunds directly from their own computers.

But exactly when you need this service depends on how you filed your return. Processing times differ for paper and electronically filed 1040s. How you ask the IRS to send you your money also makes a difference.

If you e-file and request direct deposit, the IRS says it should take no longer than three weeks for you to get your refund. If you filed a paper return and asked that your check be mailed to you, it could take up to eight weeks.

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Once you're past the time frame for issuance of your refund, it's time to log on and locate your money.

Necessary tracking data
To get started, you'll need your Social Security number, the filing status entered on your return and the amount you're expecting. Joint-return filers should enter the name and tax ID number of the spouse shown first on the return.

And don't do any rounding on the refund amount entry. The tracking program wants precise dollars and cents.

If you have any questions about exactly what information the IRS wants here, the "Where's My Refund?" program has links that will open up new screens with explanations of where you can find the information on your copy of your return.

After you've entered the necessary data, then click and wait for the good news that your check is in the mail.

Dialing for tax dollars
If you don't have access to a computer or simply prefer using a telephone, you still can call the IRS to track down your refund.

A special automated toll-free line is dedicated to refund status reports. When you call (800) 829-1954, you'll need the same information the online system requires.

In addition to having a copy of your return on hand, it's always a good idea to have paper and pen ready to jot down any information, additional instructions or follow-up phone numbers that you might receive during the call.

And, as with the online system, don't call unless it's been the requisite number of weeks for your filing method.

What's the holdup?
In most cases, the IRS says a taxpayer will learn via the Web site or by phone that his return was received and is being processed.

When the tax check is indeed in the mail, the tracking systems will provide the date it was sent out or directly deposited to the filer's chosen account.

But even when the news is bad, the online program might be able to offer some immediate help. If, for example, the U.S. Postal Service bounced your refund check back to the IRS as undeliverable, the IRS online tracker now allows some taxpayers to correct or change their mailing addresses online so they can get their refunds ASAP.

If this option is available in your case, "Where's My Refund?" will prompt you to take the appropriate steps.

Speeding up the process...read more