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

For some clients, waiting for their expected tax refund can seem to drag out interminably, and some mistake receiving a receipt as a sign of an imminent ATO deposit into their bank. So if you have a client who has a bad case of ants in their pants, the following could go some way to allay their tax refund anxiousness.

If they have enquired by email, you could send them the URL of this page, or this ATO web page (where they can check the progress of their return through the ATO’s self-help services). But it will pay to point out that while the ATO may send them an email or SMS (text message) to let them know if the tax return or refund has been delayed and why, or when the refund is on its way, it will never ask them to reply by SMS or email to provide personal information, such as a tax file number (TFN).

In most cases, documents lodged with the ATO online (including tax returns, refunds of franking credits and non-lodgment advice) should generally be finalised within 10 business days. (Note that if paper forms are used [yes, that still happens], it can take up to 10 weeks.)

Generally, taxpayers can use the ATO’s online services via myGov to track the progress of their return. Once they are signed in, they should select “ATO services”, then from the home page select “Manage tax returns”, then select the income year they are checking. The status shows how their tax return is progressing. There is also a telephone number if they’d prefer to check that way — 13 28 65 (they’ll need their TFN).

Returns move through stages
Generally, a return will move through the following stages:

  • In progress – Processing
    They may see this status at two stages of 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. It will contact your client 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 the taxpayer if it needs more information.
  • In progress – Balancing account
    The ATO is balancing the result of your client’s tax return with their accounts with it and other government agencies and calculating the amount it will refund or that needs to be paid. The ATO will contact your client if it needs more information.
  • Issued – $ amount
    Your client will be able to see their notice of assessment online, along with the date for payment and if they’re entitled to a refund.

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 they’re entitled to a refund, the effective date is usually the date the ATO sends their refund to their financial institution. They’ll need to check with their financial institution to find out how long it may take to process the refund.

If they have a tax bill, the effective date will be the date their payment is due.

Their return has taken longer than 10 business days. What can they do?
The ATO has a lot of returns to process, and it says it does its best to process tax returns 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 them know.
  • The taxpayer has lodged tax returns for several years all at once. The ATO needs to process all of their 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 it needs them to take any action, especially if it needs extra information in order to process a return. And remember, there is also a telephone number if your client really wants to check for themselves — 13 28 65, but the caller will need their TFN and perhaps other identity credentials.

Tax refund needed to pay outstanding bills?
Especially at this tax time, clients may be anxious about getting some much needed funds. If they think their circumstances put them under serious financial hardship, you could suggest they consider requesting priority processing and the ATO may be able to help get their tax return be processed quicker.

Website Comments

  1. Pratik rimal
    Reply

    Hi mistakenly lodge ammend tax and my outcome says in progress balancing amount how long to get tax return

    • Bonnie
      Reply

      I did my tax return with an agent, however on my gov it still says the tax return is “due.” How long does it normally take for the lodgement to reflect on my gov?

      • Andrew Hague
        Reply

        Be careful last year after 4 weeks of using a agent i did it myself qnd got it then they tried to put it in lucky i did it myself

  2. Joyce
    Reply

    On my ATO account I have an effective date with amount as a CR , but on the log in at start up says under review can someone please help me to understand this?

    • Pl
      Reply

      Put mine in July 7th

      Been balancing account for over a week.

      Dont know why my tax agent said 3 to 5 days.

      • NL
        Reply

        Please don’t shoot the messenger. The agent has no control over how long the ATO take to process your return once it is lodged. We all do the right thing by our clients. The ATO tell agents 7-14 working days. usually they come in earlier. If you have any benefits you receive from centrelink this could cause hold ups until they are all reconciled – again nothing we can control as an agent.

      • CH
        Reply

        What was your outcome after balancing account? Was your return the amount you were told you were getting back?

  3. Natalie
    Reply

    Has anyone had an issue with “balancing account” and your return being a different amount then the originally estimate amount given?

  4. Bonnie
    Reply

    I did my tax return with an agent, however on my gov it still says the tax return is “due.” How long does it normally take for the lodgement to reflect on my gov?

    • Kylie
      Reply

      means your tax agent hasn’t lodged it yet. Same thing happened to me. 2 weeks after my appointment with tax agent, i got on to the ato for something unrelated & saw it was “due”. Emailed tax agent to enquire, then coincidentally, the day after my email, it was lodged. So i think they forgot.

  5. Kylie
    Reply

    My tax refund was issued on 25th August, but tax agent still hasn’t deposited my refund. Where do i go from here? Tax agent not responding to my emails.

  6. Lisa Healy
    Reply

    Thank you for this article. It answered all my questions without having to open multiple ATO website areas!

  7. Kristen Mcmahon
    Reply

    Hi i lodged over 2 weeks ago and it went through the stages it was saying an amount after in progress balancing account and the still same amount at in progress processing account then it went to $0.00 but still saying processing account, but click on summary and its saying cancelled please can someone help

    • bob builder
      Reply

      What you are describing is your Tax Refund amount going thru the normal process – from the ATO to your bank account.
      What happens when you lodge a tax claim, the amount of your estimated return is instantly available to be seen as a positive number in your Tax Account inside MyGov/ATO.
      That number could change 1 time during the process or 10 times, and each time that happens youll see it say “Income Tax Refund Cancelled” followed by the entire balance going to 0, then the next day coming back in at an edited value maybe 100 maybe 1000 different. this is just the ato fine tuning your amount.

      Heres all you need to know:
      UNDER REVIEW: can mean processing, can mean your being audited, can mean they need more info from you, or it can simply just mean processing. strange system these guys use!
      CANCELLED: means processing, also means reviewing refund, can also actually mean CANCELLED in the true sense as in YOUR RETURN IS CANCELLED YOUR A FRAUD lol.
      PROCESSING can mean processing, can mean reviewing, can mean whatever they want it to mean.

      When you see the money in your account thats when you know the result AND ONLY THEN WILL YOU TRULY KNOW IT. until then its all a guess. take care.

  8. James
    Reply

    I lodged my tax return and it was showing “balancing account” for over 2 weeks. Checked today and its now back in my “to do list” and showing as ‘overdue’ ? What has happened and there is no info as to why i have to resubmit?

    • Barb
      Reply

      I had the same thing happened to me twice now? No explanation or anything, wtf do we do?

      • bob builder
        Reply

        which year are you guys trying to lodge? an old year, or 2020?
        ive had this happen to me before and it turned out to be someone somewhere else had alreadyh claimed that year without me knowing, but ive also had it happen to me just randomly like a system glitch or something. clearly these things can only be answered by actually calling the ato, and in all honesty if you want any sort of “help” on these websites and your willing to follow the lead of a stranger, well that stranger should be me but id prefer to talk more privately not out in the open like this, the less people can find on public web pages about your tax affairs the more secure your tax accounts are from intrusion!
        and…if you are trying to lodge 2020, you may want to see what i got for my 2020 return….. it would shock you……
        happy to spread the love.

        bendrovehome@gmail.cokm

  9. Wayne
    Reply

    Yes my tax went from balancing a account with a return and effective date to cancelled income for individuals. I don’t understand because my tax is the same as previous years and I always get a refund.

    • Kris
      Reply

      Mine says the same. I’ve been waiting over 2 weeks.
      Apparently from what I have read our tax is being amended? Unfortunately mine has dropped by half ?

      • Cam
        Reply

        Mine has done the same i lodged mine on the first and its now the 15th have had nothing but trouble from it now its given me a date of assessment which is the 20th and even my return dropped by 40% can honestly say I kinda lost it when I found that out ..lost thousands !

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