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Feb. 12, 2021, 1:02 p.m. EST

‘One of the nation’s most important’ tax seasons ever just started. Watch out for these key dates

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By Andrew Keshner

Friday marks the moment when Americans can begin filing their 2020 taxes.

At a time when millions of people are strapped for money and counting on their income tax refund or a stimulus check, the Feb. 12 start of tax season couldn’t come soon enough.

The Internal Revenue Service is beginning to accept and process returns a little later than the usual start. Tax season started Jan. 27 last year.

April 15 is the deadline to file your taxes, unless you apply for an extension. (An extension lets you submit your return by Oct. 15, but you still need to pay any money owed by April 15 unless you arrange a repayment plan.)

Last year, the Treasury Department pushed the filing deadline to July 15 to avoid subjecting taxpayers to an even tighter early spring cash crunch if they owed.

The IRS isn’t planning a filing deadline extension this year, Ken Corbin, commissioner of the IRS’s Wage and Investment Division, told reporters Thursday . The IRS expects to receive more than 160 million returns this year, he said.

In 2020 filings, people can get their refund for overpayment of income taxes, as always. The average refund last season was $2,549. But taxpayers will also have an opportunity to claim stimulus check money that they may have missed in 2020.

For quickest turnaround times, people should file their taxes electronically with direct deposit information, the IRS said.  

While the filing start date is later, the IRS Free File portal opened up Jan. 15. The service lets taxpayers making less than $72,000  file their taxes free of charge through partnering private tax preparation companies. They’ll start accepting returns Jan. 15 and begin beaming them over to the IRS on Feb. 12.

Here’s the link.

For people who are anxious to get their refund, here are some other key dates this season:

  • Feb. 22 is the projected date when the IRS refund tracker will start showing information on refund status for people claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Additional Child Tax Credit. (By law, the IRS can’t release these refunds until the middle of the month because of a review period to spot bogus claims and potential identity theft.)

  • The first week in March is when refunds claiming these credits will start hitting accounts.

The Earned Income Tax Credit and the Additional Child Tax Credit are critical income sources for low- and moderate-income families, and there are special “look back” provisions this year that will let families include their 2019 returns to maximize payouts from the credit.

Don’t miss: Counting on a tax refund or stimulus check? 5 things to know before filing your taxes

By Feb. 14 last year, the IRS had already processed 38.3 million returns and issued 18.1 million refunds, filing statistics show.

Since 2007, there are have five years when the IRS pushed the tax season start date into February, according to the agency.

The later start to this tax season gave the IRS some breathing room to test systems and avoid delays when issuing refunds, it said. IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig knows there’s a lot riding on tax returns this year.

“Given the pandemic, this is one of the nation’s most important filing seasons ever,” he said in a statement. “This start date will ensure that people get their needed tax refunds quickly while also making sure they receive any remaining stimulus payments they are eligible for as quickly as possible.”

Half of the people in one survey said they file their taxes as soon as they gather all of their paperwork, according to a survey of more than 2,500 people by Upgraded Points , a personal-finance website focused on credit cards and credit card points.

Tax season this year also arrives as federal lawmakers debate the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion rescue package. Given the possibility for some mid-season changes various kinds of tax rules, some financial experts debate whether it could make sense for taxpayers to wait to see how the legislative proposals turn out.

The IRS is coming off a year when it had to temporarily close down offices because of the pandemic, distribute one round of stimulus checks and start cutting another round. As of late January, the IRS was still processing 6.7 million paper returns from the 2019 tax year, Corbin said Thursday. The IRS still needs to resolve discrepancies with taxpayers on those returns but Corbin said the process shouldn’t interfere with processing this year’s taxes.

This story was updated on Feb. 12.

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