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Here's how soon you can expect your tax refund

Select breaks down what you need to know about receiving a tax refund in 2021.

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Select’s editorial team works independently to review financial products and write articles we think our readers will find useful. We may receive a commission when you click on links for products from our affiliate partners.

Many Americans are looking forward to a sizable windfall of cash, as the average 2021 tax refund totals $2,873.

Typically, taxpayers who file their returns electronically can expect to receive their tax refund within three weeks, or 21 days. Those who choose direct deposit can receive their refunds even faster, the IRS website says. Taxpayers who file paper returns wait longer, with refunds generally issued six to eight weeks from the date the IRS receives their return in the mail.

That being said, the pandemic has caused 2021 to be an unprecedented tax year and many taxpayers may wait longer than the standard 21 days to see their refund. Between a Covid-related backlog of unprocessed 2019 tax returns, an understaffed IRS and new tax rules around claiming pandemic tax credits, don't be alarmed if you see a delay.

In the meantime, you can check the status of your tax refund by using the Where's My Refund? tool on the IRS website. You can also check your refund status on your mobile device by downloading the IRS2Go app. E-filers are able to access their status within 24 hours of filing, while paper-filers need to wait at least four weeks before checking.

For taxpayers who have yet to file

The extended May 17, 2021, deadline to submit your 2020 tax return is really just around the corner.

If you've procrastinated, we have a few tips for you:

  1. File electronically (90% of taxpayers already do).
  2. Look over your return for any errors before submitting.
  3. If you are claiming the 2020 Recovery Rebate Credit on your return because you didn't receive a stimulus check that you qualified for, or you received a lesser amount, double check that the amount you claim is correct. This can cause a delay as the IRS will flag your return for review.
  4. Choose to have the refund directly deposited into your bank account. Doing so ensures you get your refund as quick as possible, plus it avoids any chance of a check getting lost in the mail.
  5. Use an online tax software that walks you through the process so you can file fast, accurately and get your maximum refund. Select reviewed 12 tax filing programs, evaluating them on a range of features, including cost, user experience, expert tax assistance and Better Business Bureau rating. Here are the best tax filing programs:

TurboTax

On TurboTax's secure site
  • Cost

    $0 to $290 federal, $0 to $55 per state (see breakdown by plan below)

  • Free version

    Yes

  • Mobile app

    Yes

  • Live support

    Yes, costs extra

  • Better Business Bureau rating

    A+

Terms apply, see below for our methodology.

Pros

  • Step-by-step guidance with a Q&A format that is easy to follow
  • TurboTax Live provides on-demand advice and a final review from a tax expert or CPA
  • Live Full Service has a tax expert prepare, sign and file your return
  • 100% accuracy guarantee, or TurboTax will pay your IRS penalties
  • Maximum refund guarantee, or TurboTax will refund the plan fees you paid
  • Audit support, which provides free assistance if you get an IRS or other tax notice

Cons

  • More costly than other software programs
  • Live expert assistance plans cost $80 to $200 for federal and $45 to $55 per state
  • Live Full Service charges $130 to $290 for federal, state is additional

Cost breakdown by plan:

  • Free (for simple returns): $0 federal, $0 per state
  • Deluxe (helps you maximize credits and deductions): $60 federal, $50 per state
  • Premier (includes returns with investments and expenses): $90 federal, $50 per state
  • Self-employed (for personal and business income and expenses): $120 federal, $50 per state
  • Live Basic (includes help from tax experts): $80 federal, $45 per state
  • Live Deluxe (includes help from tax experts): $120 federal, $55 per state
  • Live Premier (includes help from tax experts): $170 federal, $55 per state
  • Live self-employed (includes help from tax experts): $200 federal, $55 per state
Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.