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.

The PATH Act made the following changes, which became effective for the 2016 filing season, to help prevent revenue loss due to identity theft and refund fraud related to fabricated wages and withholdings:

  • The IRS may not issue a credit or refund to a taxpayer before February 15th, if the taxpayer claims the Earned Income Tax Credit or Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) on their return.
  • This change only affects returns claiming EITC or ACTC that are filed before February 15.
  • The IRS will hold the entire refund, including any part of the refund that isn't associated with the EITC or ACTC.
  • Neither TAS, nor the IRS, can release any part of the refund before that date, even if you are experiencing a financial hardship.

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 asking for information such as 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 you need to change or update the information on the return, 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 your refund was taken to pay a debt

  • Refunds may be taken to pay off debts you owe. There are several ways to deal with an offset refund, depending on if you owe the debt to the IRS or to another agency.  You can learn more about refund offsets here.

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

If you file missing or late returns, generally within 90 days, the IRS will process your returns and issue your refunds.

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

If you file an amended return (IRS Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return), generally within 90 days, the IRS should make any necessary adjustments and issue the refund.

However, if you’re facing serious financial difficulties and need your refund immediately, contact the Taxpayer Advocate Service.  It may be able to expedite your refund.

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 Taxpayer Advocate Service (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, certified public accountant (CPA), or enrolled agent associated with a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic.

Last modified November 17, 2017