The sooner you file your tax return, the sooner you'll receive any refund due. But this year you'll have to wait a little longer before you can submit your return. The IRS just announced that it won't start accepting 2020 tax returns until February 12, 2021. That's 16 days later than last year.
Why the delay? The IRS says the later filing season start date allows them time to do additional programming and testing of their systems following the December tax law changes that provided a second round of stimulus checks and other benefits. If filing season were opened without the correct programming in place, then there could be a delay in issuing refunds to taxpayers.
Even though you can prepare your return through the IRS' Free File program, a tax software company or a tax professional before February 12, the IRS won't process the return until that date. (The Free File program is already open.)
If you have a federal tax refund coming, you could get your money back in as little as three weeks. In the past, the IRS has issued over 90% of refunds in less than 21 days. If you want to speed up the refund process, e-file your 2020 tax return and select the direct deposit payment method. That's the fastest way. Paper returns and checks slow things down considerable.
However, don't expect your refund before the first week of March if you claim the earned income tax credit or the additional child tax credit. By law, refunds for returns claiming these credits must be delayed. This applies to the entire refund, not just the portion associated with the credits.
If you're not going to file your return right away, just make sure you beat the April 15 deadline.
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