Early tax filers will get a chance now to e-file their 2021 tax returns as soon as Jan. 24.
That's earlier than the delayed start of Feb. 12 last year when the Internal Revenue Service needed extra time for many pandemic-related reasons, including being able to program its systems to reflect new tax rules that were signed into law in late December 2020.
The Jan. 24 kickoff puts the IRS back on a more normal track. In 2020, the IRS began processing 2019 tax returns on Jan. 27.
While people file early to get their refund money more quickly, it's important to note why some tax refund money won't arrive in just a few weeks.
By law, the IRS cannot issue a refund involving the Earned Income Tax Credit or Additional Child Tax Credit before mid-February, even though returns can be filed beginning Jan. 24.
The law provides this additional time to help the IRS stop fraudulent refunds from being issued.
IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said in a statement that the pandemic continues to create challenges. But he stressed that taxpayers can take steps to keep returns moving more smoothly.
"Filing electronically with direct deposit and avoiding a paper tax return is more important than ever this year," Rettig said.
Taxpayers also can avoid holdups in getting their tax refunds by not moving too hastily if they received stimulus money and advance payments for the child tax credit in 2021.
"We urge extra attention to those who received an Economic Impact Payment or an advance child tax credit last year. People should make sure they report the correct amount on their tax return to avoid delays," Rettig said.
While you can file early, tax experts warn, it's best to wait until later in the season if you do not have all the information you need to file an accurate return.
Like last year, the IRS said, some individuals will need to file tax returns even though they are not required to file because of a low income. They would need to file to claim a "Recovery Rebate Credit" to receive the tax credit from the 2021 stimulus payments or reconcile advance payments of the child tax credit.
Many tax preparation software sites and offices are already up and running even though the IRS won't accept e-filed returns until later in January. The prepared returns will be electronically submitted to the IRS when filing season officially begins.
The deadline for federal income tax returns is April 18.
Most taxpayers will receive their refund within 21 days of when they file electronically if they choose direct deposit and there are no issues with their tax return, according to the IRS.
Tompor is the personal finance columnist for the Detroit Free Press.