If the IRS lost your tax return, here is what you should know, do, and prepare to make sure your lost refund is returned to you as quickly as possible.
1. Get it right the first time
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.
The best way to prevent a missing refund is to make sure you filed your original return accurately.
2. Wait 16 weeks
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.
So wait 16 weeks before tearing out your hair.
3. 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 if you filed electronically. Additionally, it should be longer than 4 weeks if you filed by postal mail.
When using “Where’s My Refund” site, 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.
4. 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?
If your refund is simply nowhere to be found, you will need to contact the IRS. For those working with a tax professional, 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 a check, you may need to file a claim and open an investigation. The IRS can issue a replacement check if your check was lost in the main. In case the check was cashed by someone else, you may need to deal with issues of identity theft and/or fraud.
5. Don’t count on those tax return dollars
If the IRS lost your tax return, 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 months to find. So think of your refund as more of a surprise bonus than the money you can count on to pay bills or upcoming business expenses.
What are the steps to take if my tax refund got stolen or lost?
Step 1. Check the status of your refund.
Go to irs.gov/refunds.
Step 2. Use form 3911 to begin a trace of your refund.
You can report the missing refund check with form 3911.
Step 3. Get the IRS’s next-action steps for your refund trace.
After you find out whether the check has been lost or stolen, the IRS will tell you how to proceed.
a. If you chose a direct deposit for your tax refund
Your bank or financial institution will receive a notice within 6 weeks from the Treasury Department’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service verifying where your deposit went.
b. If you chose paper check refunds for your tax refund
So long as the check has not been cashed, you will get an IRS replacement check in about 6 weeks.
c. If your refund check was cashed
You will receive a claim package within 6 weeks to fill in and send to the Bureau of the Fiscal Service. If the check is found to have been forged, a replacement refund check will be issued.
d. If your claim is denied
You will receive a denial letter from the Bureau of the Fiscal Service letting you know how you can appeal their decision.
How do I file a 3911 form to ask for a new refund?
If you filed a 1040 form but you never received your refund check, you can use a 3911 form to ask for a new refund. Watch this tutorial on how to file a 3911 form.
Frequently asked questions: The IRS lost my tax return
The Where’s My Refund tool will help you track your refund. Find it on IRS.gov or on their mobile app, IRS2Go App. Most tax refunds are sent out within 3 weeks. However, some exceed this time period if your tax return requires further assessment.
To use Where’s My Refund? to check on the status of your tax return, input the following:
• Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
• Or social security number (SSN)
• Filing status listed on your return: single, qualifying widow(er), head of household, married filing jointly, etc.
• The exact refund total that was on the tax return
After inputting your information, you’ll be moved to a Refund Status Results screen where you will see the following information:
• Return received
• Refund approved
• Refund sent
Check Where’s My Refund once a day for updates.
Call the IRS at 800-829-1954 (toll-free). You will be directed to use their caller support or you can ask for an IRS rep. For more information, go to IRS.gov’s dedicated page “Where’s My Refund?”
You can also use their mobile app to start tracking your refund. For married joint filers, you will need to use Form 3911 to get the replacement process started.
The number provided by IRS.gov is 800-829-1040 to speak with an IRS rep. The hotline is open from Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Pacific Time.
Bonus infographic: What to do if the IRS lost your tax return
Originally published on March 31, 2014. Updated on October 17, 2022.
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