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Unemployment tax break refund: How to check your IRS transcript for clues

The IRS has sent 8.7 million unemployment compensation refunds so far.


Angela Lang/CNET

If you paid taxes on your unemployment benefits from 2020 and filed your return before the American Rescue Plan was passed in March, you could be eligible for a bigger refund than you expected. Here’s why: The first $10,200 of 2020 jobless benefits, or $20,400 for married couples filing jointly, is considered nontaxable income. Since May, the IRS has been making adjustments on tax returns and issuing refunds averaging $1,686 to those who can claim that tax break. 

The frustrating thing is that those remaining payment dates are unclear. The last batch of refunds, which went out to some 1.5 million taxpayers, was over a month ago. The IRS has not issued any news about a timeline for this month, except to say “summer,” which officially ends Sept. 22. While some have reported on social media that they have pending dates on their IRS tax transcripts, many other taxpayers say they’re fed up because they haven’t received any money or updates at all. 

If you’re still waiting for your money, we’ll explain how to access your tax transcript online for clues. We’ll tell you why to look out for an IRS TREAS 310 transaction on your bank statement or an 846 code on your transcript. For other unemployment news, check out the latest on $300 weekly bonus payments ending this weekend. And here’s how the child tax credit could affect your taxes in 2022. This story gets regular updates.

What to know about 2020 unemployment tax refunds 

In late May, the IRS started sending refunds to taxpayers who received jobless benefits in 2020 and paid taxes on that money before the American Rescue Plan went into effect. That law waived taxes on up to $10,200 in unemployment insurance benefits for individuals earning less than $150,000 a year. With the latest batch of payments in July, the IRS has now issued more than 8.7 million unemployment compensation refunds totaling over $10 billion. 

The first batch of these supplemental refunds went to those with the least complicated returns (single taxpayers with no dependents), and batches are supposed to continue throughout the summer for more complicated returns. On July 13, the IRS said it sent out 4 million more payments via direct deposit and paper check, and another 1.5 million went out starting July 28. According to an igotmyrefund.com forum and another discussion on Twitter, some taxpayers who filed as head of household or as married with dependents started receiving their IRS money in July or getting updates on their transcript with dates in August and September. 

Here’s a quick recap of what we know:

  • The tax break is only for those who earned less than $150,000 in adjusted gross income and for unemployment insurance received during the pandemic in 2020. 
  • The $10,200 is the amount of income exclusion for single filers, not the amount of the refund. The amount of the refund will vary per person depending on overall income, tax bracket and how much earnings came from unemployment benefits.
  • Most taxpayers don’t need to file an amended return to claim the exemption. But if you think you’re now eligible for deductions or credits based on an adjustment, check the recent IRS release for the list of who should file an amended return. 
  • If the IRS determines you are owed a refund on the unemployment tax break, it will automatically correct your return and send a refund without any additional action from your end. 
  • Not everyone will receive a refund. The IRS can seize the refund to cover a past-due debt, such as unpaid federal or state taxes and child support. 
  • Refunds started going out in May and will go out in batches through the summer as the agency evaluates tax returns. More complicated returns could take longer to process.
  • The IRS is doing the recalculations in phases, starting with single filers who are eligible for the up-to-$10,200 tax break. It will then adjust returns for those taxpayers who are married and filing jointly, who are eligible for the up-to-$20,400 tax break.
  • Refunds will go out as a direct deposit if you provided bank account information on your 2020 tax return. A direct deposit amount will likely show up as IRS TREAS 310 TAX REF. Otherwise, the refund will be mailed as a paper check to whatever address the IRS has on hand.
  • The IRS will send you a notice explaining the corrections within 30 days of when a correction is made.
  • Some states, but not all, are adopting the unemployment exemption for 2020 state income tax returns. 

Unemployment tax break refund: How to check your IRS transcript for clues


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How to check IRS refund status on your tax transcript

The IRS says eligible individuals should’ve received Form 1099-G from their state unemployment agency showing in Box 1 the total unemployment compensation paid in 2020. (If you didn’t, you should request one online.) Some states may issue separate forms depending on the jobless benefits — for example, if you received federal pandemic unemployment assistance, or PUA. 

One way to know if a refund has been issued is to wait for the letter that the IRS is sending taxpayers whose returns are corrected. Those letters, issued within 30 days of the adjustment, will tell you if it resulted in a refund or if it was used to offset debt. The IRS says not to call the agency. 

You can try the IRS online tracker applications, aka the Where’s My Refund tool and the Amended Return Status tool, but they may not provide information on the status of your unemployment tax refund. 

An immediate way to see if the IRS processed your refund (and for how much) is by viewing your tax records online. You can also request a copy of your transcript by mail or through the IRS’ automated phone service by calling 1-800-908-9946. 

Here’s how to check your tax transcript online:

1. Visit IRS.gov and log in to your account. If you haven’t opened an account with the IRS, this will take some time as you’ll have to take multiple steps to confirm your identity.

2. Once logged in to your account, you’ll see the Account Home page. Click View Tax Records.

3. On the next page, click the Get Transcript button.

4. Here you’ll see a drop-down menu asking the reason you need a transcript. Select Federal Tax and leave the Customer File Number field empty. Click the Go button.

5. The following page will show a Return Transcript, Records of Account Transcript, Account Transcript and Wage & Income Transcript for the last four years. You’ll want the 2020 Account Transcript

6. This will open a PDF of your transcript: Focus on the Transactions section. What you’re looking for is an entry listed as Refund issued, and it should have a date in late May or June. 

If you don’t have that, it likely means the IRS hasn’t gotten to your return yet. 

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The average IRS refund for those who paid too much tax on jobless benefits is $1,686. 


Sarah Tew/CNET

IRS tax transcript codes decoded: 971, 846 and 776

Some taxpayers who’ve accessed their transcripts report seeing different tax codes, including 971 (when a notice was issued), 846 (the date and amount of a refund) and 776 (the amount of additional interest owed by the IRS). Others are seeing code 290 along with “Additional Tax Assessed” and a $0.00 amount. Since these codes could be issued in a variety of instances, including for stimulus checks and other tax refunds or adjustments, it’s best to consult the IRS or a tax professional about your personalized transcript. 

What to do if you’re waiting on your unemployment refund

It’s best to locate your tax transcript or try to track your refund using the Where’s My Refund tool (mentioned above). The IRS says that you can expect a delay if you mailed a paper tax return or had to respond to the IRS about your electronically filed tax return. The IRS makes it clear not to file a second return: You should call if it’s been more than three weeks since your last update.

Keep in mind that the IRS has limited live assistance because the agency is juggling the tax return backlog, delayed stimulus checks and child tax credit payments. Even though the chances of speaking with someone are slim, you can still call. Here’s the best number to call: 1-800-829-1040. 

Unknown details about the unemployment tax break 

The IRS has only provided limited information on its website about taxes and unemployment compensation. We’re still unclear on the future timeline for payments during the coming months, which banks get direct deposits first or who to contact at the IRS if there’s a problem with your tax break refund. 

Also, since some states fully tax unemployment benefits and others don’t, you might have to do some digging to see if the unemployment tax break will apply to your state income taxes. This chart by the tax preparation service H&R Block could give some clues, along with this state-by-state guide by Kiplinger

Here’s how to track your tax return status and refund online and what we know about contacting the IRS for stimulus check problems. For more on stimulus payments and relief aid, here is information about the child tax credit for up to $3,600 per child and details on who qualifies.


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