How To File Your Taxes Early — and Get Your Refund Faster

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The deadline for filing your federal income tax return is May 17th this year. But, if you’re among the more than 70% of taxpayers expected to receive refunds from the IRS, you might want to file your tax return well before the deadline so that you can get your refund as soon as possible.

Please note that The IRS has announced that the federal income tax deadline for individuals is May 17, 2021 for the 2020 tax year. State deadlines have not changed, however, so make sure to confirm your state’s due date before you file.

Begin Your Return Before the Filing Season Start Date To File Taxes Early

The earliest that the IRS accepts returns tend to fall somewhere in mid-to-late January, regardless of whether you file your taxes with a paper copy or online software. The IRS typically announces this date in early January. However, your tax preparer or software provider might allow you to use its tax preparation services to complete your return prior to the tax season’s earliest date. Although that won’t get your return filed any earlier with the IRS, it will ensure that your return is complete and ready to send on the start date.

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Discover how to make sure your tax return is at the front of the line when the IRS opens its doors so that you can put your refund to work for you sooner.

More of a Procrastinator? 15 Tax Tips and Deadlines To Know for Last-Minute Filing

How To File Taxes Early To Get Your Refund More Quickly

In general, the main rule is to file your taxes as soon as possible in order to get an early tax refund. Here are other steps you can take to ensure you’re getting your tax refund as soon as possible:

1. Maintain Records and Documentation

Keep records of activities throughout the year so that when it’s time to file your taxes, all your necessary documentation is in one place. The receipts you should keep for tax purposes include records of charitable contributions, business expenses and mileage costs. For example, if you make periodic contributions to various charities, it’s much easier to total them as you go throughout the year instead of digging through your bank or credit card statements and hoping you catch them all at the end of the year.

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See: These Are the Receipts To Keep for Doing Your Taxes

2. Gather Information for Your Dependents

If you claim anyone as a dependent, you’ll need their Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. You can’t claim the dependents or qualify for the child tax credit without these numbers. And, if you don’t get them by the due date for filing your return — including extensions — you’ll miss out on any refund you were entitled to.

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3. Receive Your Official Tax Statements

Before you submit your tax return, you’ll need to receive official tax statements such as Form W-2 and Form 1099 from employers, banks and investment companies. Your employer has until Jan. 31 to file the W-2s, according to the IRS. However, if you don’t receive your W-2 by the end of February, contact the IRS for assistance in getting the form from your employer.

If you file before you receive your form, your refund could be delayed while the information is verified.

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Lost W-2? Here’s What To Do

4. Use the Correct Tax Forms

To help ensure that you get your tax refund quickly, select the correct tax form for your financial circumstances. Anyone who is filing an annual income tax return will use Form 1040 — the IRS has eliminated Forms 1040A and 1040EZ. You might need to fill out individual tax schedules in addition to Form 1040 if any of the following applies to you:

  • You have additional income, such as capital gains, unemployment compensation, prize or award money, gambling winnings or any deductions to claim, such as the student loan interest deduction, self-employment tax or educator expenses (Schedule 1)
  • You owe alternative minimum tax or need to make an excess advance premium tax credit repayment (Schedule 2)
  • You can claim a nonrefundable credit other than the child tax credit or the credit for other dependents, such as the foreign tax credit, education credits or general business credit (Schedule 3)
  • You owe other taxes, such as self-employment taxes, household employment taxes or additional taxes on IRAs or other qualified retirement plans and tax-favored accounts (Schedule 4)
  • You can claim a refundable credit other than the earned income credit, American opportunity credit or additional child tax credit, or you have other payments, such as an amount paid with a request for an extension to file or excess Social Security tax withheld (Schedule 5)
  • You have a foreign address or a third-party designee other than your paid preparer (Schedule 6)

Find Out: 7 Ways You’re Accidentally Committing Tax Fraud

5. Request Direct Deposit

You can request to have your refund directly deposited into your bank account after you file your tax return. About 80% of taxpayers select this option rather than receive a paper check, according to the IRS. In addition to receiving your refund sooner, you’ll save money on the government’s behalf: It costs about $1 to process a paper check but only 10 cents to process a direct deposit.

6. Track Your Return and Refund Status With the IRS

You can track your tax return and the status of your refund by using the “Where’s My Refund?” tool from the IRS.

The tool will provide the most current information regarding the status of your return and the estimated date that you can expect your refund. It generally takes 24 hours after you submit your return electronically — or four weeks after submitting a paper return — for your information to enter the database.

A word of caution: If you claim certain tax credits, including the earned income tax credit and the additional child tax credit, your tax refund could be delayed. Refunds for returns that include claims for those credits can’t be issued until mid-February, with most refunds not reaching taxpayers until the end of February at the earliest.

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Gabrielle Olya contributed to the reporting of this article.

Last updated: Mar. 18, 2021

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About the Author

Michael Keenan is a writer based in the Kansas City area, specializing in personal finance, taxation, and business topics. He has been writing since 2009 and has been published by Quicken, TurboTax and The Motley Fool.
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