Happy official tax season!
The Internal Revenue Service says it’s here to serve, and issued a plea for understanding on the first day of the 2021 filing season: “We are real people serving real people,” IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said Monday, Jan. 24, “and we want to make everyone proud.”
It’s been a rough couple of years for the IRS. In regular, prepandemic years, the agency fielded about 5 million calls from folks seeking help and information. Last year, it fielded nearly 120 million calls, said Ken Corbin, whose title includes “chief taxpayer experience officer.”
Your favorite government agency offered a list of tips for its, ahem, masters to help this joyous time pass more smoothly. The most important may be “no dead wood.”
The IRS beseeches taxpayers to avoid paper like the plague: Do not file paper returns and do not to ask for a paper refund check if you want timely action. That gums up the machinery of government exponentially. File online and ask for a direct-deposit refund to your bank account for the quickest wrap on your personal tax season.
Those who don’t usually file a return, or who didn’t file last year, are encouraged to do so this year. That’s because they might qualify for important tax credits (child tax credit, recovery rebate credit, otherwise known as stimulus payments, advance child tax credit or earned income tax credit).
Take the time to go over things and get it right; errors can lead to extreme anxiety and heart palpitations (as this reporter, who recently received a six-figure tax bill for a 2019 error, can attest!).
So gather up those mortgage statements and receipts and fire up the tax preparation software. Let’s begin:
Question: When is the filing deadline, and will it be extended because of the pandemic?
Answer: As of right now, most taxpayers must file by Monday, April 18 (due to the Emancipation Day holiday in Washington, D.C., falling on Friday, April 15). Disaster victims will have later deadlines in some places. There’s no plan to extend the deadline any later, but the IRS will continue to monitor how things proceed, Rettig said.
Q: How long will it take to get my refund?
A: Most folks who file electronically with direct deposit can expect to see refunds within 21 days. Last year’s average refund was about $2,800, the IRS said.
Q: I have a question and need help. What do I do?
A: “Phone lines have been jammed, and we anticipate they’ll continue to be jammed up for the foreseeable future,” Rettig said. Instead, head online to IRS.gov. If you don’t have an online account yet, create one — the feature has been expanded to allow more people access. (It has multifactor authentication and took this reporter far too long to create an account, thanks to its repeated rejection of her passport photo page. To save time, make sure your face is clear in your ID picture and there’s no glare on the document. Once in, you’re supposed to see lots of you-specific information.) If you do opt for the phone, take advantage of expanded automated offerings.
Q: How do I handle all those stimulus payments and child tax credits?
A: Carefully. Make sure the amount you enter on your taxes matches up with the totals the IRS has sent you via snail mail. “Though it is a letter from the IRS,” quipped Corbin, “open it up before you file returns.” Check the numbers in your new online IRS account as well. If totals on your return and in the IRS’s files differ, it could result in significant delays.
Q: What if the amount I received and the amount in that letter don’t match up?
A: Breathe. There have been discrepancies in a small percentage of those letters, the IRS acknowledged. It seems to involve taxpayers who moved or changed bank accounts in December, so checks were returned or direct deposits were rejected. If that’s you, check the numbers in your new online account and work for resolution there.
Q: But the IRS still hasn’t finished last year’s return. How am I supposed to start this year’s return?
A. You’re in an exclusive club. There were about 167.6 million tax returns filed last year, and 6 million of them are still in process. The IRS wants you to file your 2021 taxes anyway. When the software program asks for your adjusted gross income from last year, use $0, the IRS said. Really!
Q: OK, so, how exactly do I file electronically?
A: There’s popular software like H&R Block and TurboTax. There are professional tax preparers. If you or your family earned less than $73,000 in 2021, you can use IRS Free File. And some taxpayers can find free one-on-one tax prep help through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs. You can find links on irs.gov.
Q: Should we expect the unexpected?
A: After the last two years, do you really need to ask that question? Officials stressed that they’re expecting delays and are asking everyone for help by filing accurately, quickly and electronically. The agency has endured erratic funding, start-and-stop technology upgrades and handled round after round of stimulus checks last year in addition to its regular duties. It distributed $1.5 trillion to the people of this country in more than 500 million separate payment files, the commissioner said.
“Understand that we are trying, and our employees are trying,” Rettig said.
Source: Orange County Register