Avoid pandemic paper delays: Use e-file with direct deposit for faster refunds

WASHINGTON – With filing season opening on Feb. 12, the Internal Revenue Service urged taxpayers to take some simple steps to help ensure they file accurate tax returns and speed their tax refunds to avoid a variety of pandemic-related issues.

Although every year the IRS encourages taxpayers to e-file their returns and use direct deposit to receive refunds, to those taxpayers who have previously not used e-file, the IRS emphasizes using it this year to avoid paper-related processing delays. Taxpayers can file electronically by using a tax professional, IRS Free File or other commercial tax preparation software. The IRS cautioned paper-filed tax returns and paper checks will take even longer this year due to a variety of reasons.

Taxpayers have until Thursday, April 15, 2021, to file their 2020 tax return and pay any tax owed. The IRS expects to receive more than 160 million individual tax returns this year with nine out of 10 returns filed electronically. At least eight out of 10 taxpayers get their refunds by using direct deposit.

“The pandemic has created a variety of tax law changes and has created some unique circumstances for this filing season,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “To avoid issues, the IRS urges taxpayers to take some simple steps to help ensure they get their refund as quickly as possible, starting with filing electronically and using direct deposit.

“Following months of hard work, we are ready to start this year’s tax season,” Rettig added. “Getting to this point is always a year-round effort for the IRS and the nation’s tax community. Doing it in a continuing COVID-19 environment while simultaneously delivering stimulus payments for the nation is an unprecedented accomplishment by IRS employees. I also want to thank all our tax partners and tax professionals for their hard work that makes tax time smoother for the nation. All of us stand ready to serve America’s taxpayers during this important filing season.”

Wage and Investment Commissioner and Chief Taxpayer Experience Officer Ken Corbin provides an in-depth perspective on how the IRS is preparing for a successful filing season in his A Closer Look column.

Be tax ready: Review pandemic-related changes
Last year’s sweeping set of tax changes not only affected individuals and their families but may also affect the tax return they’re filing this year. A new IRS Fact Sheet explains what taxpayers need to know to file a complete and accurate tax return. The IRS recognizes that filing this year may be challenging for some taxpayers and it’s important to understand how to claim credits and deductions, get a refund timely and meet all tax responsibilities.

Recovery Rebate Credit helps people still eligible for Economic Impact Payments
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.

New language preferences to help taxpayers
Additionally, this year for the first time, Forms 1040 and 1040-SR are available in Spanish, and the IRS has a new form allowing taxpayers to request that they receive information from the IRS in their preferred language. The Schedule LEP, Request for Change in Language Preference, will allow taxpayers to request information in some 20 different languages besides English.

The IRS also wants to remind taxpayers of other important changes that could impact their tax return this year.

Remember to factor in retirement plan distributions
Some taxpayers found it necessary to take coronavirus-related early distributions from 401(k) plans and traditional IRAs in 2020. Under the CARES Act, those distributions – up to $100,000 – are not subject to the 10% additional tax that otherwise generally applies to distributions made before an individual reaches age 59 ½. In addition, a coronavirus-related distribution can be included in income in equal installments over a three-year period, and an individual has three years to repay a coronavirus-related distribution to a plan or IRA and undo the tax consequences of the distribution.

Taxpayers should also remember that they can make contributions to traditional IRAs until April 15, 2021, and still deduct that amount on their 2020 tax return, if eligible.

New for 2020: non-itemizers can deduct $300 for charitable cash contributions
Previously, charitable contributions could only be deducted if taxpayers itemized their deductions. 
However, with the CARES act, taxpayers who don’t itemize deductions may take a charitable deduction of up to $300 for cash contributions made in 2020 to qualifying organizations. For the purposes of this deduction, qualifying organizations are those that are religious, charitable, educational, scientific or literary in purpose.

Now more than ever, e-file is best
Now more than ever, the safest and best way to file a complete and accurate tax return and get a refund is to file electronically and use direct deposit. Taxpayers can visit IRS.gov/filing for more details about IRS Free FileFree File Fillable Forms and Free tax preparation sites. E-filing is also available through a trusted tax professional. Free File is a great option for people who are only filing a tax return to claim the Recovery Rebate Credit, either because they didn’t receive an Economic Impact Payment or did not receive the full amount.

The fastest way to get a refund is to file electronically and use direct deposit. Most refunds are issued in less than 21 days, but some refunds may take longer for a variety of reasons. Taxpayers can track their refund using “Where’s My Refund?” on IRS.gov or by downloading the IRS2Go mobile app where they’ll get a personalized refund date as soon as 24 hours after the tax return is electronically submitted.

Most early Earned Income Tax Credit/Additional Child Tax Credit filers should see an update to “Where’s My Refund?” by Feb. 22. The IRS cannot answer refund status inquiries unless it has been 21 days since the return was electronically filed.

IRS tax help is available 24 hours a day on IRS.gov, where people can find answers to tax questions and resolve tax issues online from the safety of their home. The Let Us Help You page helps answer most tax questions, and the IRS Services Guide PDFlinks to other important IRS services.

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