The IRS has pushed the tax season start date back 2 weeks — here’s when you can file

E-file your tax return early to prevent fraud. Westend61/Getty
  • The 2021 tax-filing start date has been pushed back two weeks, to February 12.
  • Businesses are still required to make their wage statements available online or mail them to workers by February 1.
  • You can begin preparing your tax return when you have these documents — either through the IRS Free File program or commercial tax software — but it won’t be submitted to the IRS until February 12.
  • The IRS says the quickest and safest way to get your refund is by filing electronically and selecting direct deposit. Most refunds will arrive within 21 days.
  • Refunds for filers claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or child tax credit are expected to begin arriving in early March.

Prepare for a messy tax season.

Between processing a backlog of tax returns, distributing a second round of stimulus checks, and implementing new tax rules that became effective under the CARES Act, the IRS has a lot of work to do.

On Friday, the agency said it will begin accepting individual tax returns on February 12 — two weeks later than usual. However, it has opened up its Free File program for anyone who wants to get a head start on preparing their return. Most tax software providers, including H&R Block and TurboTax, are also open.

Remember that if you’re missing part or all of a stimulus payment you qualify for, you’ll be able to claim it as a tax credit (it’s called the Recovery Rebate Credit) on your tax return. If you owe taxes, the credit will reduce your bill and any remaining cash will come back to you as a refund. If you’re getting a refund already, the unpaid stimulus will be added to it.

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When can I start filing taxes?

You can start preparing your tax return when you have all your income statements for 2020, but the IRS won’t be accepting federal returns until February 12. Some states may be accepting returns earlier.

The deadline for businesses to send W-2s to employees and 1099s to nonemployees, including contractors or gig workers, is February 1. These forms may be available online through your payroll company or arrive in the mail.

Freelancers: If you received at least $US600 in compensation in 2020 from a business where you were not traditionally employed, you’ll get Form 1099-NEC. This income was previously reported on Form 1099-MISC.Banks are also required to send 1099s to customers who received interest or dividends. And anyone who collected unemployment benefits in 2020 will get Form 1099-G reporting the amount they received. Remember: Unemployment compensation is taxable at both the federal and state levels.

If you haven’t received your income forms by mid-February, you should first contact the employer and request a copy or ask that it be re-sent. If that doesn’t work, you can then contact the IRS at 800-829-1040 (expect long wait times). You’ll need to provide the following information:

  • Name, address, Social Security number, and phone number
  • Your employer’s name, address, and phone number
  • Dates you worked for your employer
  • An estimate of your paid wages and federal income tax withheld during 2020

If you still don’t have your W-2 by April 15, you can use the W-2 substitute, Form 4852,and estimate your wages and withheld taxes. Note that the IRS could delay your refund while verifying the information.

How do I file taxes?

You can file online yourself, potentially for free, or visit a tax professional.

If your adjusted gross income (AGI) was less than $US72,000 in 2020, you might qualify to file your federal return, and maybe your state return, at no cost through one of the IRS partners, regardless of how complicated your tax situation is. Also, most active duty military qualify for free filing. Check out your options here.

If your income exceeds $US72,000, or you’re not interested in the platforms offered in partnership with the IRS, check out our list of the best tax software to use this year.

The deadline to file and pay any tax you owe is April 15.

When will I get my tax refund?

Despite the later start date, the IRS said 90% of people who e-file their tax return should get their federal refund within 21 days. Note that in normal times, the earliest that filers who claim the Earned Income Tax Credit(EITC) or child tax credit can get their refunds is February 15. This year’s later filing start date will push the distribution of many of these refunds into early March, the IRS said.

The IRS ensures filers that the quickest — and safest — method for getting a refund is filing electronically and opting for direct deposit.

To find out when your refund is coming, use the tracking tool on the IRS website beginning 24 hours after e-filing your return (note: this tool will be available to those claiming the EITC or child tax credit beginning February 22). You’ll need your exact refund amount, Social Security number or taxpayer ID number, and filing status.

How do I prevent fraud?

It’s easy to procrastinate filing your taxes, but putting it off makes you more vulnerable to fraud. If a scammer gets hold of your Social Security number and you haven’t filed a tax return yet, they could easily file a fake one in your name to get a refund.

Scam calls are ubiquitous during tax season. Keep in mind that if the IRS needs to get in touch with a taxpayer, it sends a letter — not an email, not a phone call, and definitely not a message over social media. Especially when it’s investigating cases of tax fraud or performing an audit.

Never return a phone call from someone claiming to be with the IRS. Instead, individuals should call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040, and businesses should call 800-829-4933.

The US Department of Justice says the IRS never discusses personal tax issues through unsolicited emails or texts, or over social media. Always be wary if you are contacted by someone claiming to be from the IRS who says you owe money.

If you receive an unexpected and suspicious email from the IRS, forward it to [email protected].

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