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Your Tax Return is Being Processed-What Does This Mean?

You’ve filed your tax return but haven’t received your refund yet. So you’re checking the status of your return on the IRS website, and see, “Return being processed.” What does this mean? It means that the IRS has received your tax return, and that you don’t need to do anything further.

However, that’s not very helpful for someone who might be waiting for a big tax refund. Or for someone who simply wants to ensure they filed their tax returns properly. Or for someone who is afraid of a tax audit.

This article will go into more depth about why you might be waiting longer than you expected for your tax return to be processed, and what you can do to ensure your next tax return goes as smoothly as possible.

Let’s start by discussing the easiest way of checking the status of your tax return: “Where’s My Refund?”

What is “Where’s My Refund?”

Where’s My Refund” is the IRS website’s online tool where an individual taxpayer can log in and check whether or not the IRS has processed their tax return. You can use this refund tool to check the status of your tax return for the current tax year as well as the previous two years.

check the status of your tax refund by using the IRS 'where's my refund' tool
Wondering where your tax refund is?

What do you need to use “Where’s My Refund?”

In order to use the IRS website to check the status of your refund, you will need:

From there, you can check the status of your refund.

There’s an app for that!

If you’re using a mobile device, you can check your tax refund status on the IRS’ mobile app, IRS2Go. The IRS2Go app is available through the Apple Store, Google Play, and on Amazon.

With IRS2Go, you can:

  • Check the status of electronic tax returns 24 hours after filing
  • Check the status of paper tax returns 4 weeks after filing
  • Make a payment using IRS Direct Pay from your bank account
  • Access free tax filing software, or find taxpayer assistance near you
  • Stay up to date on IRS tips and latest information
  • Securely log into certain online services

Now that we’re a little more familiar with the IRS’ refund tool, let’s talk about what the IRS is doing with your tax return.

What does “Return Being Processed” mean?

If you see “Return being processed,” as the latest status when you go to the “Where’s My Refund” portion of the IRS website, it literally means that there’s nothing more you need to do at this time. However, the Internal Revenue Service might need additional information at some point.

tax return being processed

Why does it take so long to process my return?

According to the IRS, most tax returns are processed within 21 calendar days. If you’re expecting a federal tax refund, then you should receive it within that time.

Some individual income tax returns take additional time to process than others. Here are some of the more common reasons you might experience delay in your tax refund processing:

  • You’ve filed a paper return
  • Your federal tax return includes errors, such as incorrect Recovery Rebate Credit
  • Your tax return is incomplete or contains inaccurate information
  • The IRS has determined that your return needs further review
  • Your tax return might have been affected by identity theft or fraud
  • Your return includes a claim filed for an Earned Income Tax Credit or an Additional Child Tax Credit.
  • Includes a Form 8379, Injured Spouse Allocation, which could take up to 14 weeks to process

Any of these might impact the processing of your return and the timing of your refund. If the IRS needs more information from you, they will contact you via mail.

Can the IRS customer service representatives help me?

The IRS representatives might be able to assist you, if your tax return has been in the system long enough. The IRS website states that an IRS representative can only help if:

  • You filed an electronic tax return at least 21 days ago
  • You filed a paper tax return at least 6 months ago
  • You check your tax return status on the IRS website, and the “Where’s My Refund” online tool says the IRS can provide more information over the phone.

What can I do to avoid having my tax return held up?

There are several things that you, as the taxpayer, can do to ensure your tax return doesn’t get held up.

File your tax returns electronically.

Much of the IRS processing is possible because the vast majority of individual tax returns are electronic. And machines are much faster than people.

When paper returns are submitted, then people have to get involved, which slows things down. During the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown, processing paper returns came to a near standstill.

As of July 15, 2022, there were about 11 million tax returns that the IRS was still processing. Of those individual tax returns, 1.9 million had errors that needed correcting, while 9.1 million were paper returns waiting for someone to process them.

Sign up for direct deposit with your financial institution

If you’re waiting for a paper check, it will take longer to receive your refund check than if you have direct deposit. Direct deposit is relatively easy to track, and is the fastest way to ensure payment once your refund is approved.

Use professional help, especially for complex returns.

The other major cause of delay is mistakes in filing. While virtually everyone has access to electronic tax filing software, mistakes can happen anyway.

That’s why you should use a professional, like a certified public accountant or enrolled agent, who files individual tax returns for a living. Here are some mistakes a tax professional can help you avoid:

  • Filing too early. You want to ensure that you have complete and accurate copies of all your tax documents before you file.
  • Missing or inaccurate Social Security numbers (SSN). Each SSN on a tax return should appear exactly as printed on the Social Security card.
  • Misspelled names. Likewise, a name listed on a tax return should match the name on that person’s Social Security card.
  • Entering information inaccurately. Wages, dividends, bank interest, and other income received and that was reported on an information return should be entered carefully. Tax software might help you avoid making a math error, but you might input the information incorrectly in the first place.
  • Incorrect filing status. Some taxpayers choose the wrong filing status. The Interactive Tax Assistant on IRS.gov can help taxpayers choose the correct status. This is especially true if more than one filing status applies. Tax software also helps prevent mistakes with filing status.
  • Math mistakes. Math errors are some of the most common mistakes. They range from simple addition and subtraction to more complex calculations. Taxpayers should always double check their math. Of course, tax prep software automatically performs these claculations.
  • Figuring credits or deductions. Taxpayers can make mistakes figuring things like their Earned Income Tax CreditChild and Dependent Care CreditChild Tax Credit, and Recovery Rebate Credit. The Interactive Tax Assistant can help determine if a taxpayer is eligible for tax credits or deductions. Tax software will help with the calculations and generating the correct forms.
  • Incorrect bank account numbers. Taxpayers who are due a refund should choose direct deposit. This is the fastest way for a taxpayer to get their money. However, taxpayers need to make sure they use the correct routing and account numbers from their bank on their tax return.
  • Unsigned forms. An unsigned tax return isn’t valid and cannot be processed. In most cases, both spouses must sign a joint return. Exceptions may apply for members of the armed forces or other taxpayers who have a valid power of attorney. Taxpayers can avoid this error by filing their return electronically and digitally signing it before sending it to the IRS. 

If your tax return has any of these questions or errors, it usually will be flagged for additional review. And that will hold up your tax refund.

Frequently asked questions about tax refunds

My tax refund is a different refund amount than what I filed for. Why is that?

There might be any number of reasons why your refund amount is different from what your tax return says. For example, the IRS usually will correct simple math errors and process the return accordingly.

If you owe certain debts, like overpaid Social Security or child support, your tax refund might be garnished to offset that debt.

Where else can I get help?

The IRS’ Taxpayer Advocate Service is an independent government agency within the IRS that helps taxpayers resolve issues with their federal taxes that they cannot resolve with the IRS.

Conclusion

If you appreciate this article, and are interested in learning more about taxes or tax planning, check out our tax planning archives for more articles!