Helping Yourself to Your IRS Information

No one on the phone? The IRS has online tools that can help.

Woman sitting and looking at her cellphone

For many taxpayers, contacting the IRS for wanted information has been an ongoing struggle. Between the backlog of returns and long wait times for calls with a human agent, there is a frustrating amount of uncertainty surrounding the status of many tax returns. Fortunately, the IRS has multiple online tools to help combat some of these issues.

Where’s My Refund? tool

The IRS recently updated its Where’s My Refund? tool. Taxpayers can now check the status of their current year refunds and their previous two years’ refunds as well. The status of the current year tax return will be available 24 hours after e-filing. The two previous years’ status will be available three to four days after e-filing. Paper returns could take six months or more after mailing to be available.

There are two versions of the tool available – a web version at, and a mobile app version called IRS2Go. To view their return on either platform, taxpayers will need their Social Security number or ITIN, filing status, and the expected refund amount from the original filed tax return for the year they are checking.

Once a year is selected, taxpayers can track their returns through three stages: return received, refund approved and refund sent. Information is updated once a day, usually overnight.

IRS online account

The Where’s My Refund tool is great for checking on the status of returns with refunds. However, for information about returns with a balance due, prior year adjusted gross income and/or other tax information, the IRS online account is the best option for taxpayers.

To create an Online Account, there are more steps involved than with the Where’s My Refund tool. Taxpayers will need to sign up with an email and password. They will be asked to set up multifactor authentication, like texting a code to a phone or using an authenticator app. Lastly, they will need to pass the IRS’ secure access authentication. This is an identity verification process that requires a photo of an identity document such as a driver’s license or passport, and a selfie with a smartphone or computer webcam.

This last step can cause difficulties for some taxpayers. There are a few tips and tricks to make the process smoother.

When taking the photo of the identity document:

  • Match the orientation of the photo to the document, so for a driver’s license use landscape.
  • Turn off the flash on the camera to reduce glare.
  • Place the document on a dark surface.
  • Do not include any other objects in the photo.
  • Take the photo straight on, not at an angle.
  • Take the photo as close as possible without cutting off any of the four corners of the document.
  • The photo must be PNG or JPG format.

When taking the selfie:

  • The photo will need to be portrait orientation.
  • Items that obscure the face should be removed, such as glasses and hats.
  • If the taxpayer has a hard time seeing the smartphone screen, it may be easier to have someone else take a photo of them.

If the self-service identity verification fails, taxpayers will have to verify their identity during a video chat with a live agent. For this process they will need two identity documents. Unfortunately, there may be a wait time to talk to a live agent.

The online account offers more resources and tools than Where’s My Refund. Once the online account is set up, taxpayers can view amounts due, view and make payments, create a payment plan, pull transcripts and view other tax records. Taxpayers can also view and approve authorization requests from tax professionals such as power of attorney forms and tax information authorizations. Whichever is used, with both tools taxpayers can find all kinds of information about their tax returns.

Take advantage

These tools offer a quick and easy way to find information and do common things like paying a bill or viewing the status of a return. On your timeframe, day or night. In a time when calling the IRS can be a long, frustrating ordeal, these resources are a great alternative. And for questions and things that these tools don’t cover, JCCS is here to help.

* This article is not a complete listing of all the details related to this business / accounting topic and you should contact your CPA for a more detailed discussion regarding these items and how they may apply to your specific situation.

Photo credit: Lensabl,