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Receiving your tax return

Okay, so you’ve taken the plunge and “done” your taxes. If you’re like 83% of Americans who filed returns, you qualify for a “tax refund.”33 Rather than owing the IRS more money, the IRS actually owes you. That’s a good thing!

So how exactly will you collect that tax return?

Whether you’ve filed on your own, used an app, or gone with a professional, there are several different ways you can select to receive your return.

When you file, you can choose one of the following methods to receive your refund:

1. Direct deposit

This is the easiest option for receiving your refund. All you need to do is provide the account and routing number for your bank account when you file your return. You can even have them split the refund between multiple accounts. Once your refund is processed, the IRS will electronically deposit your funds. That’s it! If you file your return electronically, using direct deposit can usually get your refund back in 21 days or less. Direct deposit is also available for folks who file paper returns or who use a tax preparation service.

2. A prepaid debit card

This option should really only be used by people who do not have a bank account. Having the IRS load your refund onto a prepaid, reloadable debit card can be better than having them issue a check due to the high fees charged by many check-cashing businesses. (Also, just like direct deposit, this option is much faster than a paper check.) However, many of the prepaid cards that are offered for tax refunds come with high fees as well, so be careful and make sure that the card you’re choosing is the best one available to you. A lot of cards are offered by tax preparation services specifically for these purposes, but folks who already have a prepaid debit card can have their refund deposited on that card by providing the account and routing numbers on their return.

3. Paper check

For those who like to do things old-school, you can always have the IRS cut you a paper check, which they then mail to you. Some of the potential issues with this option include the check getting lost in the mail or the check getting lost, stolen or destroyed once you’ve received it. In addition to those risks, this method is also much slower than direct deposit or using a prepaid debit card. With those other options, it usually takes 21 days or less for your refund to arrive. With a paper check, it can take between 4-6 weeks. However, if you have a bank account and do not want to do direct deposit, paper checks are a better option than a prepaid card, due to the fact that no fees will be involved with the check.

4. Purchase US savings bonds

This is the least-known tax refund option. It’s also fairly new, having only been around since 2010. By filling out IRS Form 8888, you can use your refund to purchase up to $5,000 in US savings bonds. These are low-risk products designed for long-term investment—maturing after 30 years. You can use any portion of your tax refund to purchase a savings bond, so long as it is in an increment of $50. Any amount that is left over will then be sent to you via paper check or directly deposited into your bank account.

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