How Does A Tax Refund Work? A Beginner’s Guide

A tax refund is an amount of money that a taxpayer receives from the government if they have paid too much in taxes. It’s calculated based on income, deductions, credits, and other factors. 

Tax refunds are often seen (and welcomed) as a way to regain some of your hard-earned money otherwise lost to taxes throughout the year.  

Understanding how tax refunds work can help individuals maximize their returns and ensure they receive all the benefits they’re eligible for.

This guide will provide an overview of precisely that, along with wise tax refund tips and what factors affect them so beginners can better benefit from this incredibly helpful process.

Closeup of man hand filling income tax forms

What Is A Tax Refund?

A tax refund is when the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) determines that an individual has overpaid their taxes and reissues the amount in a lump sum payment.  

The amount received equals what was previously withheld from paychecks or sent through estimated payments during the filing year.  

Taxpayers may also receive additional refund credits if specific criteria are met. These include Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC), child tax credits, and education credits. 

Receiving a reimbursement from the government for taxes paid can be an advantageous situation for taxpayers. Therefore, it’s crucial to have a good grasp of it to make the most out of its perks.

How Do Tax Refunds Work?

A tax refund can be received in various forms, such as a direct deposit to their bank account, a check mailed to them, or a prepaid debit card.  

The specific steps associated with filing taxes and getting refunds go like this: 

  • Submit the appropriate paperwork to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). 
  • Wait for the IRS to accept and process the return. 
  • Check the return status through tools such as ‘Where’s My Refund?’ accessible online through the IRS website. 
  • Ask that payment be sent via direct deposit if applicable or wait for a paper check from the IRS. 
  • File additional paperwork requesting debt forgiveness from past years’ owed taxes due to financial hardship. 

It usually takes around three weeks for an individual to receive their refund after filing their return.

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Factors Affecting Your Tax Refund

The amount of tax refund you can receive is influenced by the following:


Income is a crucial factor in determining the amount of money one can receive as a refund. The size of your income will determine which tax bracket you fall into, affecting how much you pay to the IRS throughout the year.  

Generally, those who report higher incomes will owe more taxes. It makes them eligible for larger refunds when they overpay their yearly taxes.  

On the other hand, those with lower incomes are typically not required to pay as much and may have smaller or no refunds. 

Tax Deductions 

Tax deductions can decrease the income subject to taxation, reducing an individual’s overall tax liability.  

Deductions are subtracted from a taxpayer’s adjusted gross income (AGI), the amount used to calculate taxes owed.  

A taxpayer may get deductions through charitable donations, financial aid, retirement contributions, and medical expenses. 

Deductions fall under two categories: standard and itemized. Standard deductions reduce taxable income by a flat rate set by the IRS each year and require no further documentation.

On the other hand, itemized deductions enable taxpayers to subtract expenses from their taxable income, such as payments for mortgage interest, state and local taxes, medical expenses, work-related fees, and charitable donations. To prove these deductions, receipts or other forms of evidence are necessary.

Filing taxes online using a computer

Tax Credits 

Tax credits reduce the income tax owed. Claimed on an individual’s tax return, they can be either refundable or non-refundable.  

A refundable credit is allowed even if no taxes are owed, in which case the taxpayer receives a refund for the amount of the credit.  

Non-refundable credits are only allowed when taxes are due, and any excess over what was owed cannot be recouped as cash. 

The types of tax credits available vary by country but often include incentives for educational expenses, childcare costs, energy efficiency measures taken in one’s home, and investments in low-income neighborhoods.  

Taxpayers must meet specific eligibility criteria to receive these credits; they may also need documentation, such as receipts or bank statements, to claim them.  

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Filing Status 

Filing status is essential when calculating one’s taxable income and the associated tax liability. Depending on individual circumstances, individuals may be eligible to file as single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household, or qualifying widower with a dependent child.   

When determining which filing status best fits one’s needs, it’s important to consider differences such as standard deduction amounts, available credits and deductions, and other unique circumstances such as whether one is a registered domestic partner or part of an unmarried couple living together.  

Overpaid Taxes 

Overpaid taxes occur when an individual or business has paid more into the tax system than expected. This often happens when employers miscalculate and withhold more money from team members’ paychecks than necessary. This results in employees receiving more than expected wages after taxes are taken out.  

In this case, the taxpayer will receive a tax refund for any excess taken out of their paycheck. Other instances where taxpayers may be entitled to overpaid taxes include when overestimating deductions, having multiple sources of income, or if there is an error on the return filed by either the taxpayer or their accountant.

Common Mistakes To Avoid When Filing For A Tax Refund

For a seamless filing process, it’s vital to avoid these mistakes:

Incorrect Personal Information 

Errors in personal information may lead to complications when attempting to receive a tax return. Incorrectly detailing one’s date of birth, address, Social Security Number (SSN), and bank details can slow down the process or even result in the rejection of the application. 

Mistakes with one’s SSN are particularly problematic as it’s used for identification purposes. Meanwhile, errors in one’s address may delay the physical delivery of any refund check sent by mail from the IRS. Likewise, incorrect bank details can cause funds to be misdirected and thus lost in many cases.  

Failing To Report All Income 

Failing to report all income on a tax return can result in costly penalties. It may even lead to criminal prosecution, regardless of whether the taxpayer deliberately or inadvertently failed to report it.  

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This can happen by omission, either by not filing a return when one is due or by underreporting income sources. Remember that all sources of income must be reported, including wages, tips, investments, and business earnings.

Once an underreported amount is identified, taxpayers can expect additional taxes plus interest and penalties on the unpaid taxes. In addition, they may also be subject to criminal charges if there are indications that they have attempted intentional fraud or tax evasion. 

Not Claiming All Eligible Deductions And Credits 

Claiming all eligible deductions and credits can help reduce the amount of taxes owed and potentially increase refunds.  

The IRS allows eligible deductions and credits for a person’s income, filing status, and other factors. Taxpayers should research all possible deductions and credits to maximize their tax savings.  

It’s important to note that taxpayers must have adequate records of expenses or other relevant items that qualify for deduction or credit to claim them on their return. Additionally, some types of deductions may be limited depending on the taxpayer’s income level or other considerations.  

Failing To Sign And Date The Tax Return 

A taxpayer must sign and date a tax return to be considered valid. Failing to do so can cause numerous problems for the taxpayer, including the following: 

  • Delayed processing or rejection of their return 
  • A delay in receiving any refund they’re eligible for 
  • Difficulty in amending the tax return later 
  • Potential fines or penalties issued by the IRS 

The most important thing to remember when filing a tax return is to include all signatures and dates; this could ensure the process goes smoothly without any issues.

Get What You Deserve

Understanding how tax refunds work can help ensure you receive the due amount for your diligence. With this guide, you can enjoy more of your own money and stay motivated to comply. Consult the experts to learn more.