What is a Tax Return?

December 12, 2022

What is a tax return, how do they work, and how are they different from a tax refund? Find out all this and more in Check City's complete guide to tax returns.

Quick and Convenient Tax Filing at Check City.

Tax Returns vs Tax Refunds

Though these terms are often used interchangeably, they do have different meanings. 

Tax return definition

A tax return is a document (or documents) that a person files with the IRS to report on how much they've earned and paid in taxes that year. 

tax refund definition

A tax refund is a payment from the IRS for the amount a person overpaid in taxes that year. 

The return is when you file your taxes and the refund comes after you've filed your taxes and after the IRS sees you are eligible for a refund. 

What is an Income Tax Return?

It is a report that taxpayers send to the IRS at the beginning of each year. This report outlines the total earnings and taxes you've paid the year before. 

So the files you send to the IRS in 2021 will have information about your income and taxes in the year 2020. Taxes are done this way so that a full year of earning income and paying income tax can complete before we handle the tax filing for that year. 

Income Tax Definition

Income tax is a government tax on your income. The government takes out a percentage from each paycheck you receive. 

Income tax acts as a source of revenue for the government. It goes toward helping the government and other public services function. 

What is a Tax Return?

It is a set of tax documents (like your W-2 or 1099) that are used to document and report your total earnings and taxes paid during the span of one year (usually the year prior to filing). 

We file an income tax return each year because, depending on your tax bracket, you may have overpaid in taxes the previous year and are owed a refund, or you may have underpaid in taxes the previous year and need to settle your accounts with the IRS. 

Filing taxes allows taxpayers to settle their accounts with the IRS, including if the IRS owes you money back. They also take into account your special circumstances. 

For instance, you might be liable to get more out of your tax refund if you own a business, have business expenses, or take care of dependents like your children, older parents, or sick relatives. 

The information you provide in your tax documents will show all of this information to the IRS and help get you the refund you deserve. 

What is a Tax Return Transcript?

Tax return transcript defintion

A tax return transcript is a transcript or record of your taxes and past returns. Tax transcripts are sometimes used when a person needs to prove their income for a loan. 

This transcript acts as a quick summary of the most important information from your previous tax returns. This is helpful when you need information from past taxes but you don't want to weed through all those individual files. Your tax return transcript will usually go back about 3 years. 

How Long to Keep Tax Returns

You should keep personal files of all your tax information for at least the last 3 years. But the IRS is able to initiate a tax audit for the past 6 years, so keeping these records for a minimum of 6 years will ensure you are prepared and informed. 

Timeline graphic

Keep your tax information and files as organized as possible. Create a paper filing system that's divided into years and yearly quarters. 

You can also keep electronic files by scanning documents or using PDF editors to fill out tax information digitally. Then you can organize your digital tax documents into digital folders for each tax year. 

How Long Does it Take to Get Tax Returns?

2021 IRS Tax Refund Dates Graphic

*Please note that the following dates are estimates and are subject to change as the IRS adjusts its tax schedule this year.

How long it takes to get your tax return back to you in the form of a tax refund depends on how you file and how you are set up to receive your refund. 

The tax refund calendar below can help give you an idea of how long it will take you to get your refund. 

Be advised that this tax refund schedule 2021 chart is an estimate based on previous tax seasons. For the most accuracy, check your tax refund status at Get Refund Status at IRS.gov.

Paper Tax Return vs Electronic Tax Return

Paper vs electronic filing graphic

Your personal tax return schedule will also depend on you and the choice you make when filing. Usually, filing electronically and setting up direct deposit will be the quickest way to be done with taxes this year and get your refund. 

Electronic filing and direct deposit refunds are usually the fastest to process. Just remember that these numbers are estimates. For the most accurate idea of how long it will take to get your tax return back, go to Get Refund Status at IRS.gov.  

Check City Tax Professionals File For You 

Online tax services abound these days, making filing taxes a lot easier and faster. But many online tax preparation services don't file your taxes for you. Instead, they provide an easy-to-use online platform where you'll have to fill out each form yourself. 

What if tax preparation could be even easier? At Check City, it can. Come to any Check City with your tax information and our tax professionals will file your taxes for you. 

The Check City Tax Refund Advance | Get Your Refund ASAP

In one visit to Check City, you can be completely done with taxes this year and get your tax refund early with the Check City Tax Refund Advance. 

This financial product allows Check City to give you the funds you expect to receive this tax season sooner. Don't wait to be done with taxes this year. Visit your local Check City and get your taxes filed and your tax refund today.