IRS officials are encouraging Americans to plan ahead, get their documents organized and seek help early on.

What to do before Jan. 27

United States tax forms for the IRS.
STLJB / Shutterstock
Start gathering up your W-2s and other paperwork.

Once you have your W-2s and other necessary paperwork, you can hop on your computer or go to a tax preparer to get started.

You don't have to wait until opening day of the tax-filing season to get your taxes done. Most software companies and tax professionals will accept returns early, though they can't file the documents until the IRS system opens on the last Monday in January.

You can complete your return electronically using popular tax preparation software.

Getting an early jump on your return is a good idea, in case you run into any issues. And, electronic filing helps you save time and find potential errors, such as missing information.

"The IRS encourages everyone to consider filing electronically and choosing direct deposit," says Chuck Rettig, the IRS commissioner. "It's fast, accurate and the best way to get your refund as quickly as possible."

This is especially true if this is your first tax return. Use our guide on how to file taxes for the first time to see what forms and documents you will need for your tax return.

How long will your tax refund take?

Woman waiting for somebody in cafe
Shift Drive / Shutterstock
Your tax refund won't come instantly.

While there are no guarantees, it should take approximately 10 to 14 business days for your refund to arrive by direct deposit if you submit your return electronically without any problems and the IRS promptly accepts it.

The IRS website says taxpayers generally receive their refunds within 21 days, if their return doesn’t have any red flags.

Even so, don’t count on your tax refund for any time-sensitive payments, because delays are always possible.

When you file using an old-fashioned paper return, your refund will take longer — up to four weeks — because the IRS must receive your document by mail, then input the information into its system.

If filing by paper is your preferred choice, be aware that the Feb. 17 Presidents Day holiday and any rough winter weather could slow your return on its journey to the IRS.

Checking on your tax refund

Senior couple at home checking expenses on internet
goodluz / Shutterstock
You have multiple ways to check on the status of your refund.

Any refund may be delayed because of errors, omissions or signs of possible identity theft. And if you claim the earned income tax credit (EITC) or the additional child tax credit (ACTC), you may have a short wait because the IRS says it can't refunds related to those credits until mid-February.

How do you check what's happening with your refund? The IRS knows that this is (obviously) a very popular question, so the agency has created an app called IRS2Go, which allows you to track the status of your refund.

If apps aren’t for you, you can go to the IRS website and its Where’s My Refund? portal to see how your refund is progressing.

Both of these choices start providing updates on your tax refund 24 hours after you’ve e-filed. You’ll see when your return has been received, when your refund has been approved, and when it’s been sent. (You'll have to wait four weeks to see any status reports if you file a paper return.)

You also can count on updates from your tax solutions provider, such as Credit Karma or one of the others.

If you are anticipating your refund, you might already have a plan for what you intend to spend your cash on.

If you don’t have a plan yet and need some ideas, check out smart ways to use a tax refund.

About the Author

Caitlin Cochrane

Caitlin Cochrane

Staff Writer

Caitlin Cochrane is a staff writer with MoneyWise, and has an educational background in human resource management and professional writing. When she is not writing, she is at home drinking tea and playing with her bunnies.

You May Also Like

This Is How to Find Better Deals When You Shop Online

You're probably paying too much for stuff you buy online.

Do Big Stores Save You the Most? We Price-Check Our Shopping List

With one 30-second trick, we found $460 in savings beyond Walmart and Amazon.

8 Underrated Cities for Millennials in Search of Home Ownership

Don't skip over these smaller, but still bustling, metros.