2021 tax filing season begins Feb. 12; IRS outlines steps to speed refunds during pandemic

WASHINGTON ― The Internal Revenue Service announced that the nation’s tax season will start on Friday, Feb. 12, 2021, when the tax agency will begin accepting and processing 2020 tax year returns.

The Feb. 12 start date for individual tax return filers allows the IRS time to do additional programming and testing of IRS systems following the Dec. 27 tax law changes that provided a second round of Economic Impact Payments and other benefits.

This programming work is critical to ensuring IRS systems run smoothly. If filing season were opened without the correct programming in place, then there could be a delay in issuing refunds to taxpayers. These changes ensure that eligible people will receive any remaining stimulus money as a Recovery Rebate Credit when they file their 2020 tax return.

To speed refunds during the pandemic, the IRS urges taxpayers to file electronically with direct deposit as soon as they have the information they need. People can begin filing their tax returns immediately with tax software companies, including IRS Free File partners. These groups are starting to accept tax returns now, and the returns will be transmitted to the IRS starting Feb. 12.

“Planning for the nation’s filing season process is a massive undertaking, and IRS teams have been working non-stop to prepare for this as well as delivering Economic Impact Payments in record time,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “Given the pandemic, this is one of the nation’s most important filing seasons ever. 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.”

Last year’s average tax refund was more than $2,500. More than 150 million tax returns are expected to be filed this year, with the vast majority before the Thursday, April 15 deadline.

Under the PATH Act, the IRS cannot issue a refund involving the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) before mid-February. The law provides this additional time to help the IRS stop fraudulent refunds and claims from being issued, including to identity thieves.

The IRS anticipates a first week of March refund for many EITC and ACTC taxpayers if they file electronically with direct deposit and there are no issues with their tax returns. This would be the same experience for taxpayers if the filing season opened in late January. Taxpayers will need to check Where’s My Refund for their personalized refund date.

Overall, the IRS anticipates nine out of 10 taxpayers will receive their refund within 21 days of when they file electronically with direct deposit if there are no issues with their tax return. The IRS urges taxpayers and tax professionals to file electronically. To avoid delays in processing, people should avoid filing paper returns wherever possible.

Tips for taxpayers to make filing easier

To speed refunds and help with their tax filing, the IRS urges people to follow these simple steps:

  • File electronically and use direct deposit for the quickest refunds.
  • Check IRS.gov for the latest tax information, including the latest on Economic Impact Payments. There is no need to call.
  • For those who may be eligible for stimulus payments, they should carefully review the guidelines for the Recovery Rebate Credit. Most people received Economic Impact Payments automatically, and anyone who received the maximum amount does not need to include any information about their payments when they file. However, those who didn’t receive a payment or only received a partial payment may be eligible to claim the Recovery Rebate Credit when they file their 2020 tax return.  Tax preparation software, including IRS Free File, will help taxpayers figure the amount.
  • Remember, advance stimulus payments received separately are not taxable, and they do not reduce the taxpayer’s refund when they file in 2021.

Key filing season dates

There are several important dates taxpayers should keep in mind for this year’s filing season:

  • Jan. 15. IRS Free File opens. Taxpayers can begin filing returns through Free File partners; tax returns will be transmitted to the IRS starting Feb. 12. Tax software companies also are accepting tax filings in advance.
  • Jan. 29. Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness Day to raise awareness of valuable tax credits available to many people – including the option to use prior-year income to qualify.
  • Feb. 12. IRS begins 2021 tax season. Individual tax returns begin being accepted and processing begins.
  • Feb. 22. Projected date for the IRS.gov Where’s My Refund tool being updated for those claiming EITC and ACTC, also referred to as PATH Act returns.
  • First week of March. Tax refunds begin reaching those claiming EITC and ACTC (PATH Act returns) for those who file electronically with direct deposit and there are no issues with their tax returns.
  • April 15. Deadline for filing 2020 tax returns.
  • Oct. 15. Deadline to file for those requesting an extension on their 2020 tax returns

Filing season opening

The filing season open follows IRS work to update its programming and test its systems to factor in the second Economic Impact Payments and other tax law changes. These changes are complex and take time to help ensure proper processing of tax returns and refunds as well as coordination with tax software industry, resulting in the February 12 start date.

The IRS must ensure systems are prepared to properly process and check tax returns to verify the proper amount of EIP’s are credited on taxpayer accounts – and provide remaining funds to eligible taxpayers.

Although tax seasons frequently begin in late January, there have been five instances since 2007 when filing seasons did not start for some taxpayers until February due to tax law changes made just before the start of tax time.

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#IRS ready for the upcoming #tax season; last-minute changes to tax laws included in IRS #forms and #instructions

WASHINGTON – The Internal Revenue Service today assured taxpayers and tax professionals that updates to key federal tax forms and instructions are complete and will be available when Americans begin filing their tax returns.

Most individual taxpayers file IRS Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR once they receive Forms W-2 and other earnings information from their employers and payers. IRS has incorporated recent changes to the tax laws into the forms and instructions, and shared the updates with its partners who develop the software used by individuals and tax professionals to prepare and file their returns. Forms 1040 and 1040-SR and the associated instructions are available now on IRS.gov and are being printed for taxpayers who need a hard copy.

Economic Impact Payments are an advance payment of the Recovery Rebate Credit. Important updates include the Recovery Rebate Credit worksheet on page 59 of the 1040/1040-SR instructions. Anyone who didn’t receive the full amount of both Economic Impact Payments should include the amounts they received, before any offsets, when they file. Anyone who received the full amount for both Economic Impact Payments should not include any information about the advance payments when they file their tax return.

Also new this year is the option to use prior year income amounts when computing the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Additional Child Tax Credit. 

The IRS has not yet announced a start date for the 2021 filing season. IRS Free File will open in mid-January when participating providers begin accepting returns. The IRS Free File providers will accept completed tax returns and hold them until they can be filed electronically with the IRS. 

Latest Economic Impact Payments are automatic for eligible taxpayers

This month, the Treasury Department and the IRS are sending the second round of Economic Impact Payments to millions of Americans as part of the implementation of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.

Taxpayers don’t need to take any action to receive these payments. Economic Impact Payments are automatic for eligible taxpayers who filed a 2019 tax return and those who receive Social Security retirement, survivor or disability benefits (SSDI), Railroad Retirement benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Veterans Affairs beneficiaries who didn’t file a tax return.

These second round of payments follow the successful delivery of more than $270 billion in CARES Act Economic Impact Payments to about 160 million Americans in 2020.
 
Eligible individuals who did not receive an Economic Impact Payment  – either the first or the second payment – can claim a Recovery Rebate Credit when they file their 2020 taxes this year. The IRS urges taxpayers who didn’t receive an advance payment to review the eligibility criteria when they file their 2020 taxes; many people, including recent college graduates, may be eligible for a credit.

Eligible individuals who didn’t receive the full amount of both Economic Impact Payments should claim the missing amount as a credit. Anyone who did receive the full amount for both Economic Impact Payments should not include any information about their payment when they file their taxes – they’ve already received the full amount of the Recovery Rebate Credit as advance payments.

For the latest IRS forms and instructions, visit the IRS website at www.irs.gov/forms.

Please visit IRS.gov for the latest information about the Economic Impact Payments and filing your 2020 tax return.
 

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How people can give back by becoming an #IRS-certified #volunteer

The IRS and its community partners are looking for people around the country to become IRS-certified volunteers for the upcoming tax season.

These long-standing programs offer valuable help to America’s taxpayers:

  • Volunteer Income Tax Assistance offers free tax return preparation to eligible taxpayers who generally earn $57,000 or less, people with disabilities and limited English-speaking taxpayers.
  • Tax Counseling for the Elderly is mainly for people age 60 or older. Although the program focuses on tax issues unique to seniors, most taxpayers can usually get free assistance. AARP participates in the TCE program through AARP Tax-Aide.

New processes make volunteering safe and easy To keep everyone safe, potential volunteers can tune in virtually to learn more about the programs, ask questions and find out which volunteer role is right for them.

Some volunteer sites will offer virtual help to taxpayers in place of face-to-face assistance. This allows volunteers to help taxpayers complete their tax returns over the phone or online. Other volunteers will conduct a virtual quality review with the taxpayer before e-filing their tax return.

While virtual volunteering will be an option this tax season, some VITA and TCE sites will still offer in-person free tax help. Safety and social distancing will be emphasized during face-to-face interactions.

There are many available volunteer roles:

  • Greeters to help screen taxpayers to determine the type of assistance they need.
  • Interpreters to provide language services.
  • Tax preparers to use electronic filing software to complete tax returns.
  • Tax coaches at some sites, to encourage taxpayers to prepare their own tax returns and help them through the process.

 Other benefits of volunteering include:

  • Volunteers can work flexible hours. Volunteers can generally choose their own hours and days to volunteer. The programs are usually open from late January through the tax filing deadline in April. Some sites are even open all year.
  • No prior experience needed. Volunteers receive specialized training to become IRS-certified. They can also choose from a variety of volunteer roles to serve taxpayers. VITA and TCE programs want volunteers of all backgrounds and ages, as well as individuals who are fluent in other languages.
  • The IRS provides free tax law training and materials. Volunteers receive training materials at no charge. The tax law training covers how to prepare basic federal tax returns electronically. The training also covers tax topics like deductions and credits.
  • Tax pros can earn continuing education credits. Enrolled agents and non-credentialed tax return preparers can earn continuing education credits when volunteering as a VITA/TCE instructor, quality reviewer or tax return preparer.

People can sign up through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program by visiting the sign-up page on IRS.gov. Shortly after signing up, interested participants will receive an invite to attend a virtual orientation.

IRS YouTube VideoVolunteer Income Tax Assistance Recruitment

Share this tip on social media — #IRSTaxTip: How people can give back by becoming an IRS-certified volunteer. https://go.usa.gov/xArEy 

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BE AWARE IRS SCAM!

IF YOU RECEIVED A REFUND CHECK OF UNKNOWN REASON DO NOT DEPOSIT THE CHECK. PLEASE RETURN THE CHECK TO IRS WITHOUT CASHING IT.

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today warned taxpayers of a quickly growing scam involving erroneous tax refunds being deposited into their bank accounts. The IRS also offered a step-by-step explanation for how to return the funds and avoid being scammed.

Following up on a Security Summit alert issued Feb. 2, the IRS issued this additional warning about the new scheme after discovering more tax practitioners’ computer files have been breached. In addition, the number of potential taxpayer victims jumped from a few hundred to several thousand in just days. The IRS Criminal Investigation division continues its investigation into the scope and breadth of this scheme.

These criminals have a new twist on an old scam. After stealing client data from tax professionals and filing fraudulent tax returns, these criminals use the taxpayers’ real bank accounts for the deposit.

Thieves are then using various tactics to reclaim the refund from the taxpayers, and their versions of the scam may continue to evolve.

Different Versions of the Scam

In one version of the scam, criminals posing as debt collection agency officials acting on behalf of the IRS contacted the taxpayers to say a refund was deposited in error, and they asked the taxpayers to forward the money to their collection agency.

In another version, the taxpayer who received the erroneous refund gets an automated call with a recorded voice saying he is from the IRS and threatens the taxpayer with criminal fraud charges, an arrest warrant and a “blacklisting” of their Social Security Number. The recorded voice gives the taxpayer a case number and a telephone number to call to return the refund.

As it did last week, the IRS repeated its call for tax professionals to step up security of sensitive client tax and financial files.

The IRS urged taxpayers to follow established procedures for returning an erroneous refund to the agency. The IRS also encouraged taxpayers to discuss the issue with their financial institutions because there may be a need to close bank accounts. Taxpayers receiving erroneous refunds also should contact their tax preparers immediately.

Because this is a peak season for filing tax returns, taxpayers who file electronically may find that their tax return will reject because a return bearing their Social Security number is already on file. If that’s the case, taxpayers should follow the steps outlined in the Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft. Taxpayers unable to file electronically should mail a paper tax return along with Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, stating they were victims of a tax preparer data breach.

Here are the official ways to return an erroneous refund to the IRS.

Taxpayers who receive the refunds should follow the steps outlined by Tax Topic Number 161 – Returning an Erroneous Refund. The tax topic contains full details, including mailing addresses should there be a need to return paper checks. By law, interest may accrue on erroneous refunds.

If the erroneous refund was a direct deposit:

  1. Contact the Automated Clearing House (ACH) department of the bank/financial institution where the direct deposit was received and have them return the refund to the IRS.
  2. Call the IRS toll-free at 800-829-1040 (individual) or 800-829-4933 (business) to explain why the direct deposit is being returned.

If the erroneous refund was a paper check and hasn’t been cashed:

  1. Write “Void” in the endorsement section on the back of the check.
  2. Submit the check immediately to the appropriate IRS location listed below. The location is based on the city (possibly abbreviated) on the bottom text line in front of the words TAX REFUND on your refund check.
  3. Don’t staple, bend, or paper clip the check.
  4. Include a note stating, “Return of erroneous refund check because (and give a brief explanation of the reason for returning the refund check).”

The erroneous refund was a paper check and you have cashed it:

  • Submit a personal check, money order, etc., immediately to the appropriate IRS location listed below.
  • If you no longer have access to a copy of the check, call the IRS toll-free at 800-829-1040 (individual) or 800-829-4933 (business) (see telephone and local assistance for hours of operation) and explain to the IRS assistor that you need information to repay a cashed refund check.
  • Write on the check/money order: Payment of Erroneous Refund, the tax period for which the refund was issued, and your taxpayer identification number (social security number, employer identification number, or individual taxpayer identification number).
  • Include a brief explanation of the reason for returning the refund.
  • Repaying an erroneous refund in this manner may result in interest due the IRS.

IRS mailing addresses for returning paper checks

For your paper refund check, here are the IRS mailing addresses to use based on the city (possibly abbreviated). These cities are located on the check’s bottom text line in front of the words TAX REFUND:

  • ANDOVER – Internal Revenue Service, 310 Lowell Street, Andover MA 01810
  • ATLANTA – Internal Revenue Service, 4800 Buford Highway, Chamblee GA 30341
  • AUSTIN – Internal Revenue Service, 3651 South Interregional Highway 35, Austin TX 78741
  • BRKHAVN – Internal Revenue Service, 5000 Corporate Ct., Holtsville NY 11742
  • CNCNATI – Internal Revenue Service, 201 West Rivercenter Blvd., Covington KY 41011
  • FRESNO – Internal Revenue Service, 5045 East Butler Avenue, Fresno CA 93727
  • KANS CY – Internal Revenue Service, 333 W. Pershing Road, Kansas City MO 64108-4302
  • MEMPHIS – Internal Revenue Service, 5333 Getwell Road, Memphis TN 38118
  • OGDEN – Internal Revenue Service, 1973 Rulon White Blvd., Ogden UT 84201
  • PHILA – Internal Revenue Service, 2970 Market St., Philadelphia PA 19104

Get Ready for Taxes: Stay home and stay safe with #IRS online tools

WASHINGTON – The Internal Revenue Service today encouraged taxpayers to take necessary actions now to help file federal tax returns timely and accurately in 2021.

This is the fourth in a series of reminders to help taxpayers get ready for the upcoming tax filing season. A special page, updated and available on IRS.gov, outlines steps taxpayers can take to make tax filing easier in 2021.

With continued social distancing, taxpayers can stay home and stay safe with IRS online tools and resources that help them find the information they need. These IRS.gov tools are easy to use and available 24 hours a day. Millions of people use them to find information about their accounts, get answers to tax questions or file and pay taxes.  

Free File
Almost everyone can file electronically for free. The IRS Free File program, available only through IRS.gov or the IRS2Go app, offers brand-name tax preparation software packages at no cost. The software does all the work of finding deductions, credits and exemptions. It‘s free for those who earned $72,000 or less in 2020. Some of the Free File packages also offer free state tax return preparation.

Taxpayers comfortable filling out tax forms electronically, can use Free File Fillable Forms, regardless of income, to file their tax returns either by mail or online.

Choosing a preparer
The IRS has several options for finding a tax preparer. One resource is Choosing a Tax Professional, which offers a wealth of information for selecting a tax professional. The Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications can help taxpayers find preparers in their area who currently hold professional credentials recognized by the IRS, or who hold an Annual Filing Season Program Record of Completion.

Other online help
The Interactive Tax Assistant answers general tax questions, including helping to determine if a type of income is taxable or if someone is eligible to claim certain credits and deductions. With changes to income and other life events for many in 2020, tax credits and deductions can mean more money in a taxpayer’s pocket and thinking about eligibility now can help make tax filing easier next year.
 
Taxpayers may qualify for credits like the Child Tax Credit and Child and Dependent Care Credit. Taxpayers whose dependent does not qualify for the CTC might be able to claim the Credit for Other Dependents. Individuals paying higher education costs for themselves, a spouse or a dependent, may be eligible to save some money with education tax credits or deductions. Additionally, low- to moderate-income taxpayers may qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Beginning in January 2021, the Interactive Tax Assistant will be updated to include answers to more tax law questions.

Taxpayers can check the status of their refund using the “Where’s My Refund?” tool. The status is available within 24 hours after the IRS receives their e-filed tax return or up to four weeks after they mailed a paper return. The “Where’s My Refund?” tool updates once every 24 hours, usually overnight, so taxpayers only need to check once a day.

The best and fastest way for taxpayers to get their tax refund is to have it direct deposited into their financial account. Taxpayers who don’t have a financial account can visit the FDIC website for information to help open an account online.

For more information about planning ahead, see Publication 5348, Get Ready to File, and Publication 5349, Year-Round Tax Planning is for Everyone.

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