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2020 Tax Refund Schedule: When Will I Get My Money Back?

Tens of millions of Americans routinely have more money taken out of their paychecks in tax withholding than they owe in taxes. That means that every spring, many taxpayers get their returns filed as soon as they can in hopes of getting their tax refund as quickly as possible. Tax refunds are often big enough to have a meaningful impact on a family's personal finances, and so many try to anticipate exactly when they're going to get their refunds back from the IRS so they can plan their spending accordingly.

The IRS used to provide a fixed schedule for tax refunds, but now, it only provides guidelines. That makes it impossible to provide an official tax refund schedule, and the IRS warns against anyone who assures you that you can expect to get your money back on a given date. However, based on the federal government's record in getting refunds back, you can come up with an estimate of when you're likely to see your refund come in.

Tax refund check on top of an old-style 1040 form.

Image source: Getty Images.

Why the IRS is so adamant about not guaranteeing a refund date

The IRS knows how important tax refunds can be for families in financial need, but it also knows that promising something it can't deliver can have serious repercussions on financial planning. Consumer lenders are ready and willing to give people loans in anticipation of their refund checks coming in, but delays in refunds can therefore lead to borrowers having to pay additional interest or even default on those short-term loans, causing a quick downward financial spiral.

There are also individual factors that make it hard to generalize when a refund might be ready. For instance, making a simple mistake like not signing your tax return can force you to restart the filing process, potentially costing you several weeks of turnaround time. The IRS doesn't want to take responsibility for taking those mistakes into account by promising a certain date for refund processing.

In addition, there are tax laws that limit the ability of the IRS to send refunds in certain cases. For instance, taxpayers who qualify for the earned income tax credit or the additional child tax credit can't get refunds until mid-February by law -- even if they file early enough to expect a refund faster.

Taking IRS claims to estimate a 2020 tax refund schedule

Even though it's reluctant to get to specific on refunds, the IRS is proud of its overall track record. Typically, 90% of taxpayers get their refunds within 21 days. If you use that time period as a baseline, then you can make some additional assumptions and project when someone who files on a specific date might get their money back from the IRS.

The refund schedule below assumes that tax season for filing 2019 tax returns will start on Jan. 27, which is consistent with the start date in recent years. It uses a four-week timeframe for delivering paper returns to the IRS and for those returns to get processed internally at the tax agency. It also assumes that paper refund checks will take two weeks to process and get mailed to you. Based on those assumptions, the dates below should give you an idea of what a 2020 tax refund schedule would look like.

Date You File

Refund Date If E-File + Direct Deposit

Refund Date If E-File + Mail Refund

Refund Date If Paper-File + Direct Deposit

Refund Date If Paper-File + Mail Refund

Jan. 27

Feb. 17

March 2

March 16

March 30

Feb. 15

March 7

March 21

April 4

April 18

March 1

March 22

April 5

April 19

May 3

March 15

April 5

April 19

May 3

May 17

April 1

April 22

May 6

May 20

June 3

April 15

May 6

May 20

June 3

June 17

Table by author based on assumptions. Warning: The IRS has not authorized this schedule and specifically says that similar tables can be misleading. Each taxpayer's experience may differ.

It's clear from these assumptions that using modern tools can save you a lot of time. Electronic filing reduces the processing time at the IRS and speeds things up. Having the money deposited directly into your bank account is also a time-saver, as it stops the IRS from having to produce a physical paper refund check and mail it to you.

Here's how you can really find out when you'll get your refund

The preceding schedule is only an estimate and carries no weight with the IRS. You might get a refund earlier or later than it projects. The tax agency urges people not to use schedules like this.

However, the IRS does provide a way to get more specific information about your refund. The IRS website has an online refund status tool that will give you an estimated time of when you'll get your money back. Those who electronically file can check after just 24 hours to get their status. Paper return filers have to wait four weeks after they mail their returns before they can expect to get status updates.

The key takeaway from all this remains the same: Don't count on getting your refund on any particular date. Having an idea can be useful for your financial planning, but if you rely on it too much, it can create many more problems than it solves.

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