(Trends Wide) — The US federal tax filing season has begun. And it’s going to be tough for the IRS and some taxpayers, given the millions of returns from last year that still need to be processed, staffing issues due to COVID-19 and the lack of necessary funds for the agency.
Despite that, there are still ways to help ensure your tax filing experience goes smoothly and that you get your refund within the typical 21-day window after the IRS accepts your return.
This requires three critical steps on your part. “File electronically. File accurately. And request direct deposit for your refund,” IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig said in a press call Monday.
“If there is a problem with your return, it can cause a considerable delay.”
As you look for accuracy, keep in mind the many variables related to last year’s taxes, such as receiving a third stimulus payment or advanced payments of the expanded child tax credit.
Here’s what you need to know about filing your 2021 taxes this year:
The deadline to pay taxes for 2021
This year, the deadline to file taxes is Monday, April 18. That’s the day you should have filed your 2021 individual return and paid any remaining federal income taxes due from last year.
Normally, the deadline for filing taxes is April 15, but this year it will be celebrated on Emancipation Day in the city of Washington. In two states, Massachusetts and Maine, the federal tax filing deadline will be April 19 due to the celebration of Patriots Day on the 18th.
The deadline to file the federal tax return will be extended for anyone who requests an automatic 6-month extension. (Note: You will only be granted an extension to file your return. You will not be granted an extension to pay what you owe.)
Additionally, tax filing and payment deadlines will be extended for anyone living in counties declared federal disaster areas due to recent natural calamities.
These include victims of tornadoes and storms in Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee, as well as victims of wildfires in Colorado. They will have until May 16, 2022 to file various individual and business tax returns and make their payments. (This IRS page offers a complete list of who is granted tax extensions related to natural disasters.)
Those affected taxpayers will also have until May 16 to make contributions to the 2021 Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Everyone else must make their 2021 IRA contributions by April 18. .
Don’t be surprised by delays
While every filing season is busy for the IRS, the pandemic-induced delays of the past two years, coupled with limited funding, will make the current filing season even busier.
Treasury officials said in a briefing call that at the start of a normal filing season, the IRS could have 1 million overdue returns, but the number this year is “several times higher.”
Last week, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig noted that delays in processing returns and tax assistance arose as the agency was administering several Covid-19 relief efforts approved by Congress. These included issuing three rounds of stimulus checks, creating a monthly system for sending child tax credit advance payments, and making changes to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). .
“Despite the valiant efforts of our employees managing a large portfolio and new responsibilities, we are still working on tax returns filed in 2021 and are unable to answer an unprecedented number of phone calls. Simply put, in many areas we cannot deliver the amount of service and compliance that our taxpayers and our tax system deserve and need,” Rettig said.
Case in point: Last year, the agency failed to respond to more than two-thirds of the calls it received. That’s why taxpayers are encouraged to first use the online tools provided on IRS.gov to get their questions answered, before contacting the agency directly.
How to get your refund as fast as possible
Most tax filers are normally due a refund.
Treasury officials noted that the IRS will likely give you your refund within 21 days of receipt, which is the typical response time, but only if you accurately and completely complete your return, file it electronically, and choose to for receiving your refund via direct deposit.
For anyone expecting a refund due to the Earned Income Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit, the IRS is prohibited by law from issuing it before mid-February to give the agency time to stop fraudulent refunds. But affected taxpayers can still file their returns starting Jan. 24.
Despite the anticipated frustrations, Rettig noted that the agency continues to look for ways to improve. “We want to deliver as much as possible while protecting the health and safety of our employees and taxpayers.”