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 (which explains the process from a taxpayer’s perspective). 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 50 business days.)

Generally, taxpayers can use the ATO’s online services via myGov to track the progress of their return as it moves through the following stages:

Stage Status and outcome
1 In progress

The ATO has received their return, and has started processing it. It usually takes around seven to 10 days for a return to be finalised from this point.

2 In progress – information pending

The ATO is collecting information to help it complete processing of the return. This information may come from payers, financial institutions, private health insurers and so forth, and may take several days. The ATO may contact the taxpayer either directly or through their agent (or both) if it needs some extra information.

3 In progress – under review

This status indicates that the ATO is looking at your client’s tax account, including previous tax returns. There may be a delay to their income tax return while it completes its review. Again, it may seek additional information.

4 Cancelled

The ATO is reviewing your client’s tax return. This may include ensuring they have included all the information that has been reported to it. There is no need to lodge the return again.

5 In progress – balancing account

Balancing accounts indicates that the ATO has the result of your client’s return, and that it is calculating their refund (or bill) based on their account balance. The return may still take a few more days while it review your client’s accounts with the ATO, but possibly also other Australian government agencies.

6 In progress – processing

The ATO has finalised your client’s return and is generating their notice of assessment.

7 Issued — $ amount

The ATO will have sent your client’s notice of assessment, and/or they’ll be able to see their notice of assessment in myGov, along with the effective date for payment if they’re entitled to a refund.

If they provided their Australian financial institution account details with their return, the ATO will pay the refund by EFT. They should check with their financial institution to confirm processing timeframes.

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.

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

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

  2. Joyce

    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

      Put mine in July 7th

      Been balancing account for over a week.

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

      • NL

        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

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

  3. Natalie

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

  4. Bonnie

    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

      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

    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

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

  7. Kristen Mcmahon

    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

      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

    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

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

      • bob builder

        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.


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