Updated: January 18, 2021: 12:40 pm ET
NOTE: The IRS has announced that the 2021 tax filing season will start on February 12, 2021.
Let’s push 2020 out of our minds and think good thoughts for 2021: Starting with the coming vaccines, and then income tax refunds.
First: The Covid stimulus payments you received in 2020 (and the second check whether you received it in 2020 or 2021) will NOT decrease your tax refund.
For some, income tax season is a painful thought, particularly if they owe taxes or their finances are complex and require considerable preparation. But for most regular workers, who have one job, a family, and maybe a mortgage or college debt, income tax season usually means anticipating a tax refund. (Which actually just means you overpaid your taxes during the year, but I won’t focus on that now.)
[The estimated refund date chart is below if you just want to scroll down.]
Although the 2020 tax season was significantly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the IRS extended last year’s deadline past the April 15 date, the IRS has not said there will be a delay in this year’s upcoming 2021 tax season, and it is not expected.
The below chart shows an estimated timeline for when a taxpayer is likely to receive their refund, based on the information we have now, and using projections based on previous years- and depending on when a person files their return. If your IRS income tax refund is delayed after you’ve filed, ask your tax professional, or simply use the “Where’s My Refund?” tool on the IRS website. Or download the IRS2Go app to check your refund status.
Most Americans who are expecting an income tax refund receive it by direct deposit in as little as 2 weeks, although it can take longer during the peak of the filing season, which starts in late March. So it’s a good idea to e-file your tax return as soon as you have all of your tax documents (like your W2, 1099s, mortgage and student loan interest, and other items).
Several factors can determine when a taxpayer may receive their tax return, including:
- How early they file
- If the taxpayer is claiming certain credits (especially EITC and CTC)
- Whether the return is e-filed or sent by mail
- Whether the taxpayer has existing debts to the federal government
- The Covid stimulus payments sent out earlier in the year will not affect your income tax refund. (However, some taxpayers who did not receive one, may be determined to have been owed one, in which case they may be able to have it added to their 2021 refund as a credit. As a local tax professional.)
Also worth noting: The IRS will delay processing by 2-3 weeks if an income tax return has the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or Child Tax Credit (CTC), since these credits are often misused. The additional time allows the IRS to verify that taxpayers qualify for the credits.
So, here’s the chart you were looking for. If IRS changes tax season this year, we will update this chart. And remember: This is an estimate of when to expect your refund. It is not exact, as all taxpayers have different returns and situations.
|IRS Accepts E-Filed Return By:||Direct Deposit Sent (Or Paper Check Mailed 1 week later):|
IRS will start accepting income tax returns on Feb 12, 2021.
|Feb. 16||Feb. 26 (Mar. 5)*|
|Feb. 22||Mar. 5 (Mar 12)|
|Mar. 1||Mar. 12 (Mar. 19)|
|Mar. 8||Mar. 19 (Mar. 26)|
|Mar. 15||Mar. 26 (Apr. 2)|
|Mar. 22||Apr. 2 (Apr. 9)**|
* = Returns with EITC or CTC may have refunds delayed until March to verify credits.
** = Filing during peak season can result in slightly longer waits.
|IRS Accepts Return By:||Direct Deposit Sent (Or Paper Check Mailed one week later)|
|Mar. 29, 2021||Apr. 9, 2021 (Apr. 16)**|
|Apr. 5||Apr. 16 (Apr. 23)**|
|Apr. 12||Apr. 23 (Apr. 30)**|
|Apr. 19||Apr. 30 (May 7)|
|Apr. 26||May 7 (May 14)|
|May 3||May 14 (May 21)|
|May 10||May 21 (May 28)|
|May 17||May 28 (June 4)|
|May 24||June 4 (June 11)|
IMPORTANT: If you file electronically (using an online tax program or preparer), the IRS will notify you of the actual date they “accepted” your return. This is often 1-3 days from the time you actually hit the “file” or “submit” button, and it is this date that you need to use for the above chart.
Taxpayers who mail a paper version of their income tax return can expect at least a 3-4 week delay at the front-end of the process, as the return has to be manually entered into the IRS system before it can be processed.
Be Safe – Hire a Professional
Taxpayers who use a professional, such as a CPA or EA, can ask that professional for the estimated date of their tax refund, and they can be more confident that their taxes have been properly (and legally) filed.
There are also apps for Apple, Android and other devices that help track refund status.
In general, the IRS says that returns with refunds are processed and payments issued within 21 days. For paper filers, this can take much longer, however. The IRS and tax professionals strongly encourage electronic filing.
What If You Can’t File Your Income Taxes By April 15?
Taxpayers who don’t have all of the paperwork needed in order to file their taxes can easily file an extension form, “Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.” – This will give the taxpayer until October 15 to file their tax return. No reason or excuse is needed to receive this extension, and as the title states, it is automatically granted.
However, if a person will owe taxes, it is still their obligation to pay those taxes by April 15, even if they have requested an extension to file. A professional can assist with this. Those who are due a refund generally only need to file the extension request by April 15. Any tax professional and most do-it-yourself tax programs can perform this task.