What to do before Jan. 24
Once you have your W-2s and other essential paperwork — keep an eye out for the new Letter 6419, which is being mailed out to child tax credit recipients — you can hop on your computer or go to a tax preparer to get started.
You don't have to wait until opening day of the tax-filing season to get your taxes done. Most software companies and tax professionals will accept returns early, though they can't file the documents until the IRS system opens on Jan. 24.
You can complete your return electronically using popular tax preparation software.
Getting an early jump on your return is a good idea, in case you run into any issues. And electronic filing helps you save time and find potential errors, such as missing information.
"The pandemic continues to create challenges, but the IRS reminds people there are important steps they can take to help ensure their tax return and refund don't face processing delays,” says Chuck Rettig, the IRS commissioner.
“Filing electronically with direct deposit and avoiding a paper tax return is more important than ever this year. And we urge extra attention to those who received an economic impact payment or an advance child tax credit last year."
How long will your tax refund take?
The IRS website says taxpayers generally receive their refunds within 21 days if they file electronically, choose direct deposit and their return doesn’t have any red flags.
Even so, don’t count on your tax refund for any time-sensitive payments, because delays are always possible — and even expected this year.
The IRS still has a backlog of 6 million unprocessed returns (as of Dec. 23) as well as 2.3 million unprocessed amended tax returns (as of Jan. 1).
If you received half your child tax credit in advance monthly payments last year, you can claim the other half when you file your return this year. The IRS says this shouldn’t cause any delays, unless you fail to properly reconcile your advance payments with the amount of credit money you’re eligible for on your 2021 tax return.
When you file using an old-fashioned paper return, your refund will take longer — up to six weeks — because the IRS must receive your document by mail, then input the information into its system.
If filing by paper is your preferred choice, be aware that the Feb. 21 Presidents Day holiday and any rough winter weather could slow your return on its journey to the IRS.
Checking on your tax refund
Any refund may be delayed because of errors, omissions or signs of possible identity theft. And if you claim the earned income tax credit (EITC) or the additional child tax credit (ACTC), you may have a short wait because the IRS says it can't issue refunds related to those credits until mid-February.
How do you check what's happening with your refund? The IRS knows that this is (obviously) a very popular question, so the agency created an app called IRS2Go, which allows you to track the status of your refund.
If apps aren’t your thing, you can go to the IRS website and its Where’s My Refund? portal to see how your refund is progressing.
Both of these choices start providing updates on your tax refund 24 hours after you’ve e-filed. You’ll see when your return has been received, when your refund has been approved and when it’s been sent. (You'll have to wait four weeks to see any status reports if you file a paper return.)
You can also count on updates from your tax solutions provider.