If you're like most American taxpayers, you've used an online tax-filing program at some point in your life. These days, popular programs like H&R Block and TurboTax make it easy for individuals with relatively simple tax situations to prepare their tax returns online. With several different types of software available at various price points, the online tax-filing industry has been expanding rapidly. At the current rate of expansion, it appears likely that online filing will all but replace in-person tax-preparation services within a decade.
Of course, online tax preparation comes with its own set of headaches. The disbursement of tax refunds can be particularly frustrating. The means by which you receive your tax refund after using an online filing service can vary from program to program.
Once you finalize your online tax return, most filing programs will provide you with a "refund estimate." In most cases, this estimate will be identical to the refund that you'll ultimately receive. Next, you'll be asked how you wish to receive your refund. Most programs permit you to choose between a paper check and a direct bank account deposit. It's important to note that the IRS will ultimately be responsible for issuing your tax refund. If your refund is delayed or appears to be "lost," you'll need to contact the IRS about the problem.
Unless the IRS discovers a problem with your online tax return, you should receive your direct-deposit refund within two weeks of filing your taxes. If you opt to receive a paper check, you may need to wait as long as six weeks. If you need to file an amended return, you could be forced to wait even longer.
It's important to note that online tax filing software may not be able to accommodate every tax situation. If you own multiple businesses or manage a complex portfolio of personal investments, it may behoove you to speak in person with a licensed tax preparation specialist. Depending upon the size of your asset pool and the amount that you earn in a typical year, you may even need to speak with a qualified tax lawyer.
If some of your investments are denominated in different currencies or exist in so-called "tax shelters," you'll need the advice of a trusted legal professional who understands the complexities of foreign taxation. Even if you ultimately file your taxes online, your refund may be too large for the IRS to process as a direct deposit. If this is the case, you'll have no choice but to receive your refund as a paper check.