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Where's My Tax Refund?

Claudine Zap

No need to panic: Tax day is still far off -- the 2011 filing deadline this year is April 17. But plenty of early birds have filed well before the deadline, and now they want their refunds. Searches on "where's my refund" have been adding up on the Web.

The good news is, figuring out when you'll receive your tax refund from the IRS should be far less taxing this year with some new online tools. Here, some basic questions are answered.

If you e-filed...

According to the IRS, taxpayers who file electronically and select direct deposit can expect a refund the fastest, in about 10 days. If not, expect to receive your refund within 21 days. In fact, the IRS claims that 90 percent of tax refunds are issued within 21 days.

What's the status of my return?

To find out what's happened to your refund, go to the IRS website's "Where's My Refund" tool,
download the IRS2Go app for smartphones, or watch the instructional video. OK, no points for production value, but hey, the IRS is on YouTube. That's a start.

When should I check for an update?

To find out when you'll receive your refund, check 72 hours after you file online or four weeks after you mail in a paper return.

You'll need your Social Security number, filing status, and the exact amount of your refund.

Bear in mind that this is the IRS, so the "estimated refund date" you'll see on the "Where's My Refund" site is just that: an estimate. Once you see the IRS has issued a refund, and if you asked for a paper check, well, then, the check is in the mail. And then allow five more days for it to reach you.

What is the fastest way to get a refund?

No question about it: Filing on the Web is the quickest way to a cash return -- and that's partly because filing online means fewer errors on the return -- such as an old address -- which can slow things down even more. Avoid delays by filing online and have the IRS deposit your refund directly into a checking or savings account.