Held or Stopped Refunds


The IRS issues most refunds in fewer than 21 calendar days. You can check the status of your refund with “Where’s my refund?” on IRS.gov or the IRS2Go mobile app.

However, you may get a letter or notice from the IRS saying there’s a problem with your return or your refund will be delayed. There are a number of reasons why the IRS may be holding your refund.

  • You have unfiled or missing tax returns for prior tax years
  • The check was held or returned due to a problem with the name or address
  • You elected to apply the refund toward your Estimated Tax liability for next year
  • The IRS is reviewing your return
  • Your refund was applied to a debt you owe, to the IRS or another federal or state agency

You should respond promptly to any IRS notice(s) asking for information (for example, an updated name or address).  Call the number on the notice if you have questions.

  • If the issue is unfiled returns, you should complete and file any missing or unfiled returns.
  • If the information on the return needs to be changed or updated, you should file an amended return.
  • If your election to apply the refund to next year’s estimated tax liability was a mistake (estimated tax payments aren’t needed or required), call the IRS toll-free at 1-800-829-1040 (TTY/TDD 1-800-829-4059) for help.  Your wait time on the phone may be longer this year. 
    • However, if you choose to have your refund applied to next year’s estimated tax liability, you can’t change your mind and have any of it refunded to you after the due date (without regard to extensions) for filing your return.
  • If the IRS is reviewing your return, it may have questions about the wages and withholding you reported, or the credits or expenses you may have claimed. The process could take anywhere from 45 days to 180 days, depending on the number and types of issues the IRS is reviewing.

If you learn your refund was taken to pay a debt

  • Refunds taken to pay off debts are offset. There are several ways to deal with an offset refund, depending on if you owe the debt to the IRS or to another agency.

If you provide the information the IRS requested, the IRS should correct your account and resolve the refund issue within 60 days. 

If you file missing or delinquent returns, the refund issue should be resolved once the IRS processes those returns (within 90 days).

If you file an amended return (Form 1040X), the refund issue should be resolved once the IRS makes the necessary adjustments (within 90 days).

However, if you’re facing serious financial difficulties and need your refund immediately, contact the Taxpayer Advocate Service.

If you don’t provide the information or file the missing returns, your refund will be delayed longer.

Have a different tax issue?  Browse common issues and situations at Get Help.

Is your tax problem more complex?  If your issue is causing you financial hardship, you have tried repeatedly and are not receiving a response from the IRS, or you feel your taxpayer rights are being violated, consider contacting TAS.

Do you feel that you need help from a tax professional but can’t afford one? You may be eligible for representation from an attorney, CPA, or enrolled agent associated with a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic.

Last modified July 5, 2016
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