Filing a tax return may not rank on your top 10 list of fun things to do, but it's a necessary task for most of us. If you're gearing up to file taxes this year, here are a few things you ought to know about.
1. The filing season is off to a delayed start
Normally, the IRS begins accepting tax returns at the end of January. This year, however, the agency won't accept tax returns until Feb. 12. Earlier this month, the IRS got busy sending out the $600 stimulus checks that were approved as part of the latest round of coronavirus relief. As such, it needs more time to process incoming returns.
Delaying the start of the tax season also means delaying refunds for early birds, so if you're eager to get your money, aim to have your taxes ready as close to Feb. 12 as possible.
2. The filing deadline is still the same
While the IRS won't begin accepting returns until February, the standard April 15 filing deadline is still in effect. Last year, the IRS delayed that until July 15 to give filers more time to get their returns in order and come up with the money to pay their tax bills in the midst of the early stages of the pandemic. But this year, filers won't get the same leeway.
If you can't get your taxes done by April 15, you can always request an extension, which gives you an extra six months to submit your return. An extension, however, won't buy you more time to pay the IRS if you wind up owing money; it will only give you more time to get your return in.
3. It's a bad idea to file on paper
Filing an electronic tax return reduces your chances of making an error, and that's reason enough to avoid paper returns. But this year, if you file on paper, you could be in for a lengthy tax refund delay.
It normally takes the IRS three weeks to issue refunds for electronically filed returns and six weeks for paper returns. But as of last month, the IRS still had a good 1 million paper returns to process from last year's filing season. And given the pandemic and potential staffing issues it might cause, this isn't the time to file on paper -- and delay a refund that could help you make ends meet during these difficult times.
4. You may need to claim your stimulus on your taxes
If you don't receive your $600 stimulus payment by direct deposit, or by check or debit card in the mail, then you'll need to claim it as a refund on your taxes. Specifically, you'll look out for something called the Recovery Rebate Credit when you submit your 2020 return. That said, you may not get that $600 back from the IRS as expected. The reason? If you owe money for underpaying your taxes last year, your tax debt could cancel out your refund, so don't bank on getting that cash if it hasn't come already.
Filing taxes isn't fun, but we simply need to get through it. And your best bet this year is to tackle your return as early on in the season as possible. You may find that your tax situation has gotten more complicated and that you need help submitting your return, in which case the sooner you line up a tax preparer, the better. This year, a lot of tax professionals will only be working with clients virtually, and that could cause some holdups in the usual filing process. Get moving to avoid a crunch.