When Uncle Sam Screws Up: What to Do If the IRS Lost Your Tax Return

Find out what to do when Uncle Sam screws up. Here are 5 steps to take if the IRS lost your tax return or you have a missing or inaccurate tax refund.

irs lost your tax return

If the IRS lost your tax return, refunded the wrong amount, or just never sends your refund, 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 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 owned thousands of dollars that have simply gone missing.

The best way to prevent a missing refund is to make sure you filed your original return 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

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. In case the check was cashed by someone else, you may need to deal with issues of identity theft and/or fraud.

Don’t count on those tax return dollars

When 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.

FAQs about what to do if the IRS lost your tax return

What if my tax return was lost in the mail?

If you lost your refund check, you should initiate a refund trace:

Call the IRS department at 800-829-1954 (toll-free) and either use the automated system or speak with an agent.

If you need further information, go to “Where’s My Refund?” at IRS.gov or use the IRS2Go mobile app and follow the prompts to begin a refund trace.

However, if you filed a married filing jointly return, you can’t initiate a trace using the automated systems. Download and complete the Form 3911 – Taxpayer Statement Regarding Refund  or the IRS can send you a Form 3911 to get the replacement process started.

How do I know if the IRS received my tax return? 

Use Where’s My Refund tool to track the status of your tax refund. It’s available on IRS.gov or through the IRS2Go App.

Where’s My Refund provides a personalized date after the return is processed and a refund is approved. While most tax refunds are issued within 21 days, some may take longer if the return requires additional review.

To use Where’s My Refund?, you’ll need the following information:

  • Your Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number as it appears on your tax return
  • The filing status you claimed on your return: single, head of household, married filing jointly, married filing separately, or qualifying widow(er)
  • The exact refund amount as shown on your tax return

You’ll be redirected to a Refund Status Results screen when you plug in this information. This screen should say one of three things: 

  • Return received
  • Refund approved
  • Refund sent

The IRS updates the tool once a day, usually overnight, so there’s no need to check more often.

How do I call the IRS and speak to an agent if I entered the correct account and routing numbers, but the IRS made an error in depositing my refund?

Contact an IRS customer service representative to correct any agency errors by calling 800-829-1040

Customer service representatives are available Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time, unless otherwise noted (see telephone assistance for more information).

What are the steps to take if my tax refund got stolen or lost?

Step 1. Confirm your refund status.

Check your refund status at irs.gov/refunds.

Step 2. Submit form 3911 to start a refund trace.

After you know your official refund status, you can narrow down what might have happened. If you had your refund sent as a check, it’s possible that it was lost in the mail or stolen.

Then you need to report the missing check and have the IRS start a trace by filing form 3911.

Step 3. Follow the IRS’ INSTRUCTIONS on your next-action steps.

After you confirm whether the check has been stolen or lost, the IRS will let you know how to proceed. The IRS’s next steps depend on whether you requested your refund come to you as a direct deposit or paper check. 

a. 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.

b. 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.

c. 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.

How do I file a 3911 form? 

Watch this tutorial video on how to file a 3911 form if you had a lost refund check. If you filed your 1040 refund check, but you never received it so it was lost, you can submit a 3911 form to request a new refund. 

Source. Jason D. Knott. How to file a 3911 form if you had a lost refund check.

Has the IRS ever lost your tax return? What did you do?

Bonus infographic: What to do if the IRS lost your tax return

What to Do if the IRS Lost Your Tax Return Infographics

Originally published on March 31, 2014. Updated on July 26, 2022.

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34 thoughts on “When Uncle Sam Screws Up: What to Do If the IRS Lost Your Tax Return”

  1. 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.

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

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

  4. 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?

  5. 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!

  6. 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!

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

  8. 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?

  9. 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

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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!!!!

  13. 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?

  14. 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!!

  15. 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!

  16. 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??

  17. 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…..

  18. 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?

  19. 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..

  20. 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….

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. Last May (2020) I sent my tax returns in for 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 all in the same envelope. I got the refund for 2019. But the rest of them have not been filed. And they claim that they don’t have them. Any suggestions?

  24. Crazy. We sent in an old return too in April, sent it certified mail in October again but still nothing? and now they say they don’t have it.

  25. I mailed my 2019 return back in April 2020 and now it’s March 2021 and I haven’t received anything. I checked on the IRS website and I called them a bunch of times but apparently my documents never made it to the IRS or maybe they are sitting on a pile… I don’t know what to do. IRS says don’t re-file yet but it’s been a year. I’m trying to re-file it electronically but I can’t for previous years??? Anyone has any suggestions?

  26. I’m in the same boat. I’ve read that millions of people who mailed in 2019 returns are in the same situation. Appartently, there are trailers filled with unprocessed tax returns. I spoke with a rep from the IRS and she told me to send in a copy of my return and to write “possible duplicate” on the top of the return. Ugh, I sent them in last week and then realized I forget to attach copies of my 1099’s so I had to send them in yet again. What a mess. They know they received the return because they deposited the payment check I sent with the return. No financials for my daughter’s college for FAFSA this year so she is at risk of not getting student aid, no $600 stimulus check this year because they used the 2019 return and now, I’m worried about the $1,400 stimulus check for myself and also for my daughter who is a dependent in college. I e-filed this year but the return is still processing and the IRS is using the 2020 return if processed or the 2019 return to determine eligibility for the $1,400 stimulus checks. Checks and direct deposits for the $1,400 payments are already going out and I don’t qualify because neither 2019 or 2020 has a completed tax return yet. I sent a message to out state’s senator. I’d suggest doing the same, and keep calling the IRS.

  27. Resend them copies with an explanation letter. Also go into the irs website and see if their are transcripts for those years. Send certified mail.

  28. Deb, my husband and son and I are in the same boat. This is messing with my son’s FAFSA. They cashed our check, as well. Everything you described also happened to us. This is such a mess!

  29. I sent a tax return out on July 09, 2020 and here it is almost a year and did not receive my refund. I sent it out paper return and about six months later they mentioned that I was missing a form. I double checked and knew everything was sent out. I sent them another copy and did not get any refund yet. I wrote to a Senator on it, and they told the person that I did not filed a 2019 tax return. When I went to check the IRS where’s my refund, it showed the refund was being processed for the next months for 2019. I tried to file my 2020 tax return electronic and it asked for my adjusted gross income. I put it in twice and it showed as the adjusted gross income was wrong. The IRS rejected my tax return. Then they asked if I filed a tax return and I put no and the tax return was accepted. Now it shows my 2020 tax return being processed on where’s my refund and nothing for for the 2019 tax return. There is no sense in calling them on the phone, because the message would say go check Where’s my refund. It is over $6000. The bills keep coming, but the IRS does nothing. Where and who do we turn to?!!

    I even sent a form out to tell I did not receive the refund. There was no response.


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