Lost or Stolen Refund

Alert: To protect the public and employees, and in compliance with orders of local health authorities around the country, certain IRS services such as live assistance on telephones, processing paper tax returns and responding to correspondence are extremely limited or suspended until further notice. Get up-to-date status on affected IRS operations and services.

You can always check the status of your refund using "Where's My Refund?" at IRS.gov or the IRS2Go mobile app. "Where's My Refund?" is updated no more than once every 24 hours, usually overnight.

If one of these apps indicates the IRS issued your refund, but you haven’t received it, your refund may have been lost, stolen, or misplaced.

If this is the case, you can ask the IRS to do a refund traceThis is the process the IRS uses to track a lost, stolen, or misplaced refund check or to verify a financial institution received a direct deposit. 

Before you ask the IRS to trace your refund, you should check to make sure there aren't any errors on your tax return, and the full processing time for a refund has passed. 

Before you ask for a refund trace

If you asked for a direct deposit refund, double check the bank account information you provided to the IRS to be sure there were no mistakes on your tax return. The IRS assumes no responsibility for errors by you or your preparer. You should also check with your financial institution to make sure the mistake hasn't been at their end.

The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act made the following changes, which became effective for the 2017 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 you before February 15, if you claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) on your tax return.
  • This change only affects returns claiming EITC or ACTC filed before February 15.
  • The IRS will hold your entire refund, including any part of your refund not associated with the EITC or ACTC.
  • Neither TAS, nor the IRS, can release any part of your refund before that date, even if you're experiencing a financial hardship.

When can I ask the IRS to trace my refund?

Direct deposit: The IRS generally direct deposits refunds within 21 days after receiving your tax return. If you don’t receive your deposit within five days after the 21 days have passed, you can request a refund trace.

Paper check: If you don’t receive your refund check within six weeks of mailing your tax return to the IRS, you can request a refund trace.

If you signed up for a Refund Anticipation Loan or Refund Anticipation Check, you should contact the financial institution that issued the loan or check.

Once you've determined that your refund is really missing, you can ask the IRS to trace the refund.

If your filing status is single, married filing separate, or head of household:

If your filing status is married filing jointly, you need to complete IRS Form 3911, Taxpayer Statement Regarding Refund, and mail it to the IRS address where you would normally file a paper tax return.

Once the IRS finishes tracing your refund, the IRS's next steps depend on whether you requested your refund come to you as a direct deposit or paper check.

Direct deposit refunds

If your refund was direct deposited, the financial institution will get a letter within six weeks from the Bureau of the Fiscal Service in the Treasury Department, to verify where the deposit went. 

Paper check refunds

If the check hasn’t been cashed, you’ll get a replacement refund check in about six weeks.

If your original refund check was cashed, you’ll receive a claim package within six weeks to complete and return to the Bureau of the Fiscal Service to process your claim.

If the Bureau of the Fiscal Service determines the check was forged, it will issue a replacement refund check and notify the IRS.

Denied claims

If your claim is denied, the Bureau of the Fiscal Service will send you a denial letter with instructions on how to appeal the decision.

If your IRS problem is causing you financial hardship, you've tried repeatedly and aren't receiving a response from the IRS, or you feel your taxpayer rights aren't being respected, consider contacting the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS).

Browse common tax issues and situations at Get Help.

You may be eligible for representation from an attorney, Certified Public Accountant (CPA), or Enrolled Agent (EA) associated with a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) for little or no cost. Low Income Taxpayer Clinics also provide information about taxpayer rights and responsibilities in different languages for individuals who speak English as a second language.

Last modified May 27, 2020