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Posted by on Mar 31, 2014 in Productivity 101 | 26 comments

When Uncle Sam Screws Up: What to do if the IRS loses your refund

When Uncle Sam Screws Up: What to do if the IRS loses your refund

If the IRS loses your refund, or refunds the wrong amount, or just never sends your refund at all, no problem!

Simply call ‘em up, let them know you haven’t received your funds, and watch as the missing money magically appears in your bank account.


Unfortunately, a missing or inaccurate tax return refund can be really difficult to track down. Long wait times on the phone and the inability to simply text Uncle Sam to get the issue resolved can mean waiting weeks, months, even over a year to get your money back.

Here is what you can do to make sure a lost refund ends up in the hands of its rightful owner (that’s you!) as quickly as possible.

Get it right the first time

When you consider the fact that there are hundreds of millions of Americans filing taxes and receiving refunds each year, Uncle Sam’s overall accuracy is amazing.

However, that’s not very comforting when you’re the one who’s owed thousands of dollars that have simply gone missing.

The best way to prevent a missing refund is to make sure your original return is filed accurately. When you start amending returns, making changes, and increasing the amount of paperwork the IRS has to do, mistakes are much more likely to happen.

Wait 16 weeks

The IRS is still playing catch up after last year’s government shutdown, so the amount of time it will take to get your refund is longer than usual. Even if you’ve opted to receive an electronic refund, it could still take up to 16 weeks for your refund to show up in your bank account, with the absolute fastest turnaround time being 21 days.

Check Where’s My Refund?

While you’re waiting, you can check the status of your return by visiting Where’s My Refund? on the IRS website.

Be sure it’s been longer than 24 hours since filing electronically, and longer than 4 weeks if you filed by mail. You’ll need to provide your social security number, filing status and the exact amount of your refund. You’ll then be able to see the date on which you can expect your return to be deposited into your bank account or for your check to be mailed.

Opt for Power of Attorney

So what happens when you wait 16 weeks, you check Where’s My Refund?, and the IRS has no record of monies owed?

It’s time to call in the big boys.

If your refund is simply nowhere to be found, you will need to contact the IRS. If you work with a tax professional, you may need to sign over Power of Attorney so they can investigate the missing money.

Be sure to keep copies of any and all correspondence you’ve received from the IRS, especially the letter indicating the amount of your return.

If the IRS claims to have mailed you a check, but you’ve never received said check, you may need to file a claim and open an investigation. If the check was lost in the mail, the IRS can issue a new one. If the check was cashed by someone else, you may need to deal with issues of identify theft and/or fraud.

Don’t count on those tax return dollars

When your refund is lost, the best thing you can do is be patient. When you’re due a refund, it’s easy to start planning what you’re going to do with the money once you receive it. A lost refund, however, could take many months to find, so think of your refund as more of a surprise bonus than money you can count on to pay bills or upcoming business expenses.

Has the IRS every lost your refund? What did you do?

  • Chris

    They actually lost my direct deposit this year. A twofold hilarity: Joint return spouse refund offset – Used refund to pay for tax prep(money funnels though third party). So tax company says we didn’t get paid due to offset. I filed the form for injured spouse(spouse has no income, they get nothing and we worked out that issue anyway). 12 weeks later they just say “we don’t have your money we sent it to you sorry”. Then I had to file a refund trace. 9 weeks later, “Sorry for the delay, in 6-12 weeks we will send a replacement check IF we find the money”.

    Needless to say, I’m not counting on it. Worst part, $8000 refund.

  • Emily at Shoeboxed

    That sounds like quite an ordeal! We hope it gets sorted out. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • Kate Duttro

    The article was sort of interesting, but really not very useful – was there an answer to the title? I didn’t see one…..

  • Tori Voss

    They owe me money. They had in system it was received as of 1/29 and would take 8-12 weeks for processing. After the 12th week. The system now says they have no record of my return. I called waited an hour was placed on hold and rep never came back. So now what do I do?

  • Clayyton

    2015 Sent my taxes in and IRS cashed check and lost the paperwork. only way I found out is trying to close on a house and no transcripts. What a JOKE!

  • Clayyton

    Oh course IRS will not take responsibility however. I mail the check and the return together so I know it was sent. wish THEY would get audited. Now Im scrabbling to close on my house. calling IRS was no help. Atleast the guy on the phone from the IRS said sorry but would not give me a letter stating they lost paperwork. Nice I have copies now of the cashed check. Yep Im pissed!

  • Clayyton

    Anyone know where I can fill a complaint that will matter?

  • Wendy Weeklund McClure

    That is exactly what is happening to my clients trying to purchase a home – what did you do??

  • Andy Stoeckel

    This exact thing is happening to my wife and I right now. It looks like it’s going to prevent us from closing on our home because the IRS has no idea where our 1040 went (but they were happy to cash the check we sent them). Did you find a way to fix this?

  • Wendy Weeklund McClure

    Yes my clients went to my tax accountant re-E filed their taxes electronically they got a call from an IRS advocate who is going to watch for those to be processed within 3 to 5 days then we can order the transcripts and close on the house

  • Brett

    I had to file a 1040x for tax year 2014 to receive the taxes portion of my military combat severance check which is non- taxable. I filed 13 weeks ago and checked the website it says “take action call the IRS with a copy of your amended return”. It’s almost 2017 and I’m still fighting to get this done. Everything is absolutely correct and I’ll add this is the 3rd amended return they lost.

  • Juliana Fitzpatrick

    Just happened to me as well. Close on home in 9 days!
    How do I get an advocate?I had accountant e-file immediately. No help on either time I called tthe IRS to help get this corrected.
    Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

  • Wendy Mcclure

    Juliana, have your accountant send the e-file confirmation to the underwriters of your loan they should except that as your transcript of filing your taxes then you can close on your new home!!!!

  • Juliana Fitzpatrick

    Thanks Wendy. I’ll ask. The Irs advocate said they couldn’t do anything faster than the e-file. I don’t know if my lender will do that, but I will ask.
    How long did it take for yours to show in the system?

  • Wendy Weeklund McClure

    Juliana – I really don’t know if the advocate really saw them but the underwriter did approve the filing! It took one week after filing!!

  • Michael Haney

    I filled 2013, 2014, and 2015 at the same time, 3 separate envelopes and received only 2015….. called them up about 2 months after receiving 2015 and they said they never received the paperwork….. what a joke!

  • Michael Hourigan

    We feel your pain Michael! Did you ever get it sorted out?

  • Teresa

    My son is getting the runaround because the IRS is saying they direct deposited the refund and the bank is saying they didn’t receive the deposit. We have official letters from each saying they don’t have the money. The IRS is telling him he has to file a civil complaint against the bank! Does anyone have any idea how to handle this??

  • Lisa

    I filed my 2016 tax papers 2/3/2017.. I claimed myself and a college age son.. They decided I needed to prove that I had a son and that he was in college… I sent in all the required papers by fax..the first letter I got from the was that I got the spending/cost deduction but nothing more, so I fax the exact same papers to them and got a second letter saying I got the child part of the tax but not the head of household… so I sent in the same exact papers and got “Oh so sorry but we lost all your correspondence and you will need to start all over again… I will get this years taxes back before the IRS gets their heads out of their ass… and if you try to call you stay on hold for 8 hours then they hang up on you without answering..tried that seven times… AND THIS IS OUR GOVERNMENT THAT HOLDS OUR MONEY FOR US…..

  • LC Miller

    I filed my returns for 2014, 2015 and 2016 on Dec. 11th, 2017. I waited and waited, checked “where’s my return” after 4 weeks, nothing. Finally I called and was told they only received 2015’s return! They were all mailed together but in separate envelopes. Do I lose my return for 2014 because it’s now been more than 3 years?

  • Elizabeth Donahue

    I had an amended return back in 2006 I NEVER received the check. I was consistently told that the check was mailed and it was out of their hands. I put that in my taxes the next three years and the IRS had nothing to tell me and really didn’t want to be bothered by it. I made a comment about, “If I was the one that owed you, this situation would be worked out immediately.” They didn’t take too kindly too that, but I was fed up & frustrated. So, now here we are 12 years later. I had to amend my 2017 Return b/c..get this…the IRS adjusted my numbers, because Box14; to them seemed like Taxable Income, when it was really a required deduction. So, my 2017 tax return was adjusted by the IRS, so instead of me getting a refund, I owed them money.
    I’ll repeat. I was owed a refund & then IRS changed my numbers, to where I owed. Now, it’s impossible to get a hold of anyone. I’m waved off & treated like a nuisance. I’m not letting this go this time. There HAS to be other ways to get a hold of them. Online, it says if you’re not in the system, then click this link….Link is clicked and a big 404 PAGE NOT FOUND, pops up.
    I’m at my wits end..

  • Kris Childs

    So i filed a 1040X,IRS received it February 27th. I waited and waited, boy 16 weeks is a long time. The first time i called, after waiting an hour on hold i was told call back Friday. That Friday was actually 16 weeks then they could look into it.,( Friday June 7th) So being courteous i actually waited until Monday the June 10th. After one and a half hours on phone this time i was told that she really couldn’t see what was going on and someone from another department would call me within 24-48 hours. 48 hours later i called IRS because i hadnt been contacted. This time after almost 2 hours on phone, more than half of that just waiting, i was told that IRS had actually finished processing my return back on April 10th. But then nothing was done after that, and i should refile. WT????? SO y’all processed my return 10 weeks ago? Yet there’s no updates anywhere. And you don’t know what happened because nothing was done after that?? And i should refile?? Why? If y’all processed it this it’s in your system already.. Hung up after that because i was bent. So 2 hours later lliterally waiting on hold to speak with someone from the TAX ADVOCATE OFFICE, finally soaks with someone only to be told it could take up to another 8 weeks for something to happen, would you like to give your info?????? Wait a minute, are you the Taxpayer Advocate or the IRS Advocate????? SO supposedly Monday I’ll get a call from someone who still can’t help, as i prepare for my lights to be cut off, car insurance cancelled, cell phones shut off…etc. . (I been out of work for almost 2 months) apparently the hardship route is a phony one, even when you have done your part and exhausted efforts with the IRS….

  • Alyssa

    Having the same issue; HELP!!!

  • Jimbo

    15 weeks after mailing my 1040SR, I still have “no status” on my refund. I spent 1 1/2 hours on hold to talk to an IRS representative. He took every piece of personal information I gave him and could find no status. I don’t know if my return was lost in the mail, or if they lost it at the IRS, or if they are working on it. The website tells me not to send a duplicate return. What is a person supposed to do? DON’T Tell me I should’ve filed electronically. That does not help. And I had VERY GOOD REASONS to file a paper return.

  • Jimbo

    That STINKS.

  • Gamma

    I filed mine on April 15th and have a receipt from the Post Office showing they received it on April 20th in Fresno, California. I finally got through to a rep today and after giving all the information I had already put online for refund status, she gave told me she doesn’t know what happened to it. I got angry. She only caved when I told her I had a receipt showing it was delivered on April 20th. So then she said that they just went back to work today only she is working from home. What does that mean??? If they can work from home today, why haven’t they been working from home like everyone else the last 4 months. She told me that because they just returned to work today (returned?) that the six week wait time for a return doesn’t even begin until to be counted until six weeks after August 1st. I felt like I was talking to Trump. Made no sense. I repeated to her what she told me. I said so I’ve waited 13 weeks, so now I have to wait until 6 weeks from August 1st. She said yes. She said I may need to resubmit my tax return. She even suggested I could do it now. I told her it says NOT to refile on the website. She said well don’t do a resubmit unless after 6 weeks from August 1 if I don’t get a refund then refile. My daughter did efile and got hers right away back in April. This is the IRS’s way of punishing you for making them go through and do the math on a paper filing. They either don’t know how to check tax filings or they make you wait so long that next year you e-file. I’m not doing an e-file, but I will have no taxes withheld from my check and deal with it at the end of each year. They may have to wait 6 weeks past August. Haha. This country has gone to hell. I’m 69 and never seen anything like what we’ve lived through the last 4 years.