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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.


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.

  • 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:

  • 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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