Where’s my tax refund? Explaining timeframes, key terms, and possible reasons for delays

For some, waiting for your expected tax refund can seem to drag out interminably. Unfortunately receiving a receipt does not always mean a sign of an imminent ATO deposit your bank account. So, if you have a bad case of ants in your pants, the following could go some way to allay your tax refund anxiousness.

Of course, if you’re unsure of where your tax refund is, please feel free to give us a call – we can always check on its progress for you.

Please be aware that sometimes the ATO may send you an email or SMS (text message) to let you know if the tax return or refund has been delayed and why, or when the refund is on its way.  The ATO however will never ask you to reply by SMS or email to provide personal information, such as a tax file number (TFN).

In most cases, documents HFB lodge electronically (on your behalf) with the ATO should generally be finalised within 10 business days. Paper forms can take up to 10 weeks.

To help you understand the possible delays in receiving your tax refunds, below are some the stages a return will move through:

  • In progress – Processing
    • the ATO has received their tax return and has started processing it
    • the ATO has finalised the tax return and is issuing a notice of assessment (an estimated assessment issue date is viewed by clicking the down arrow).
  • In progress – Information pending
    The ATO is collecting information to help it finish processing the tax return. The ATO will contact HFB if it needs more information.
  • In progress – Under review
    The ATO is manually reviewing the tax return to make sure everything is right before it finalises it. This may include reviewing prior-year returns. It will contact HFB if it needs more information.
  • In progress – Balancing account
    The ATO is balancing the result of your tax return with your related ATO accounts, and accounts of other government agencies, and calculating the amount it will refund (after potentially deducting outstanding debts to other agencies, such as Child Support or Centrelink).
  • Issued – $ amount
    We will send you a copy of your Outcome of Assessment, and you will be able to see your notice of assessment online – if you are receiving a refund. For all payable returns, we will send you a copy of your Notice of assessment which will have the payment amount, date due and payment details.

What’s the difference between “processed” dates and “effective” dates?
In simple terms, the processed date is the date the ATO finishes processing a return and updates a taxpayer’s account.

If you’re entitled to a refund, the effective date is usually the date the ATO sends your refund to your financial institution. You will need to check with your financial institution to find out how long it may take to process the refund.

If you have a tax bill, the effective date will be the date your payment is due.

Your return has taken longer than 10 business days. What can you do?
The ATO has a lot of returns to process, and their expected timeframe to process tax returns is within 10 business days, but there are reasons why it may take longer. For example, if:

  • It needs to check information in a return. It may need to contact payers, financial institutions, private health insurers or the taxpayer themselves to confirm or cross-check information in their return. A taxpayer generally doesn’t need to take any action – if the ATO needs any additional information, it will let HFB know.
  • The taxpayer has lodged tax returns for several years all at once. The ATO needs to process all returns so it can make sure their account is up to date before it issues any refunds or requests for payment.
  • The taxpayer has entered into a debt or bankruptcy arrangement. If they have declared insolvency or entered into a Part IX agreement, the ATO needs to undertake additional checks before it can finalise a tax return.
  • The ATO needs to check with other Australian government agencies (such as Centrelink or the Child Support Agency). By law, the ATO is required to pay part or all of your tax refund to other agencies if there are outstanding amounts. It is obliged to write to taxpayers to let them know if this is the case, and this practice could be reviewed.

Where possible, the ATO will let taxpayers know if further action is required.  Alternatively, the ATO can be contacted on 13 28 65 – be sure to have your TFN and other identifying credentials.

Tax refund needed to pay outstanding bills?
Are you anxious about getting your tax refund to pay outstanding bills? If your circumstances are such that a delay in receiving your tax return will put you under serious financial hardship, the ATO suggest you consider requesting priority processing. The ATO have said that this may assist in a faster processing time.

Tax and Superannuation Newsroom | Tax & Super Australia. 2021. Client: “Where’s my tax return?” Explaining refund delays. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 July 2021].