What does "tax return accepted" mean (in TurboTax)?

When you get a message from TurboTax that your (federal) return was accepted, what exactly does this mean? Does it mean that there’s no more processing of the return being done, and all they need to do is to issue the refund? Or is there more to it?

I submitted my return about two and a half weeks ago, on a Saturday night. Next day I got an email from TT saying my return had been accepted. Meanwhile my son submitted his return (on my computer and TT program) the next day. He got his refund last weekend. I have not received it.

Now my return is a lot more complicated than my son’s. So my initial thought is that they were taking longer to process mine. But if “accepted” means that they’re already finished with all the processing, then that can’t be it.

There’s another possibility, which is somewhat frightening, actually. Last year, after I submitted my 2020 return, I decided to contribute to an IRA, and I submitted an amended return. This amended return was received by the IRS in April of 2021, but has still not been processed. (I called them up about 6-7 months ago and they said it would be done within 30 days, but it wasn’t, and since then I’ve been completely unable to get through to them altogether.) So the thought occurred to me that perhaps they’re going to hold off on the 2021 refund until they process the 2020 amended return, which at the rate they’re going might take years.

My understanding of “accepted” is “the return was received by the IRS/your state revenue department, and is now in their system.”

Especially given how rapidly one gets that message from TurboTax (I usually get that message within a few hours of submitting my completed return on TurboTax), I don’t believe that it means “they have processed your return.”

Thing is that TT sends you an email an hour or two after you submit the return saying that the return has been “transmitted”. I always assumed that that was the point at which it was in the IRS system. Then, a day or two later, they send an email saying it was “accepted”. The accompanying message says “What this means: You’re officially finished filing your federal taxes – nicely done!” If all “accepted” means is that you’re in the system, then you are not officially finished filing your federal taxes.

But perhaps those messages are misleading.

Doesn’t it? What step do you still have to do?

FWIW, I file my company’s monthly income tax withholding info & payment to the IRS via Quickbooks and e-File. I click a button in Quickbooks (desktop version) and 1-10 mins later I get an email that says:

Your IRS Payment, for EIN ***** has been processed successfully by the IRS agency. For your reference, the Agency Acknowledgement Number for this payment, if one is provided by the agency, is: xxxxx

Yesterday I went to pay and my IRS password had expired, so instead my email read:

Your IRS Payment for EIN **** has been rejected by the IRS agency. The following describes the issue(s) that caused the agency to reject the payment and instructions to resolve the issue:

Issue: Internet Password has expired.

So, I suspect the acceptance notice from the IRS is “We got your submission and will now be accepting it into our [IRS] system.” The IRS system either sends back a “accepted” or “rejected” token.

I don’t think it means anything beyond that. I don’t think it indicates that it IS processed, but now it is in the queue TO BE processed. The time it takes to process might depend heavily on the number of schedules filed.

This is kind of a definition thing. I found this on the IRS website under ‘file a return’

I’d say that the TT “accepted” status says that this step has been fully completed, as in they transmitted it, and the IRS confirmed receipt of the return. If something was wrong with the return as transmitted, missing data or incorrect format, then it might not be accepted, and you would need to go back into TT to fix the return.

Well if the IRS comes across something they don’t like in the course of processing, then you would have to go back and redo it (as subsequently noted by Cheesesteak).

I mean, in theory you’re finished once you submit it even before it’s “accepted”, and in the normal course of events you shouldn’t have to do anything further at that point. There’s nothing about getting it from “submitted” to “accepted” that involves you doing anything. So I would have assumed that “accepted” is some sort of confirmation that you will not have to do anything, which would imply that the IRS have OK’d it. But perhaps not.

It seems like you may be interpreting (or, hoping to be able to interpret) “accepted” as “found to be correct and accurate,” which is a valid use of the word, as in, “I accept your explanation of the situation.” But, based on context (mostly how rapidly one gets that “accepted” email from TurboTax), it seems likely that “accepted” here means “confirmed receipt,” and “accepted entry into the system.”

A couple years back, after I had submitted my taxes electronically (through olt.com, which is one of several online filing options), I received an email that said

I forget exactly what the issue was—something that I hadn’t filled out correctly or had forgotten to provide, apparently something that Online Taxes’ own software hadn’t been set up to catch before I submitted. I apparently didn’t have much trouble going in and fixing it.

This year, I got email receipts that both my federal and state returns had been accepted (by the IRS and state department of revenue, respectively).

Sure, but the IRS can find anything at all wrong with it for 3 years after the filing deadline (a normal audit) and can find specific things wrong with it for 6 years (and can find fraud forever). So the only reasonable deadline at which you could think “I’ll never have to worry about this tax return again” is years away (assuming you didn’t file a fraudulent return or one that an IRS agent might seriously think is fraudulent).

I think it’s best to see “accepted” as analogous to having someone “accept” your tax return or other paperwork over a counter or at a desk. In some cases, they will “reject” your paperwork if there are obvious errors, such as a missing birthdate or social security number and hand it back to you. But “accepting” the documents doesn’t mean they have been reviewed in detail and found to be accurate.

And even receiving your refund doesn’t mean you “never have to worry about this tax return again”. I once got a notice from the IRS over a year later that some income wasn’t included ( there was a 1099 that we hadn’t received and didn’t expect) so presumably, it took that long for the IRS to receive the 1099 and match it to my return.

It means that the IRS has responded to TurboTax that the return was received and is a valid return. It says nothing about when it will be actually processed, only that it will be.

I use H&R Block, and I get the exact same message. My reading is like turning in a take home test in school. You get a confirmation that your test was turned in on time, and thus you won’t be penalized for being late, but this doesn’t mean you didn’t flunk it. But it’s out of your hands until you hear otherwise.
BTW I get the same message about my state return also, but it took another hour or two.

Right. It means the return was checked to be sure there are no obvious errors: math mistakes, required fields left empty or filled with the wrong kind of data, etc. It doesn’t mean it can’t be audited.