How Soon Can We Begin Filing Tax Returns?

Filing Deadlines and Information for 2017

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"How soon can I file my tax return?" "What's the earliest I can file?" "When does tax season start?" Tax accountants hear these questions and others like them frequently at the beginning of a new year. Here are a few answers. 

Filing and Processing 

You can file your federal tax return as soon as you have all the relevant information and documents you'll need, but this doesn't mean the Internal Revenue Service will immediately process your return.

The IRS didn't officially begin accepting tax returns for the 2016 tax year until January 23, 2017. It started accepting electronically filed tax returns and processing paper returns mailed to the agency on that day. If you mailed your tax return in any earlier, it just sat in the queue until Jan. 23. There's no advantage in mailing a return in earlier, ahead of the deadline, instead of waiting to e-file. 

Preparing an Accurate Return 

You'll need W-2 forms, 1099 forms, information about business or rental income, and data about your deductions to prepare an accurate return. Anyone issuing you a 1099 form has until February 1, 2017 to get it to you unless you're expecting a 1099-B, 1099-S or a 1099-MISC with information included in boxes 8 or 14. In this case, they have until February 15, 2017 to send you the form. 

Employers have until February 1, 2017 to issue W-2s to their employees. You'll have to wait for your W-2 because it includes information that can't be found on your last pay stub of the year.


The Deadline to File 

The deadline to file 2016 personal tax returns and to pay any taxes due is April 18, 2017. You can request a six-month extension from the IRS if you need additional time to prepare and file your return. This would push your filing deadline back to October 16, 2017. Payments of tax for the year are still due by the April deadline, however.

The IRS will charge interest and sometimes late payment penalties if you don't pay by April 18. 

When Will You Receive Your Refund? 

The IRS says it issues refunds in less than 21 days for most returns, but the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act or 2015, or "PATH," will delay some refunds beginning in 2017. If you're expecting a refund because you claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit, the IRS can't issue your refund before February 15, 2017 regardless of when you file. PATH provides that the IRS needs time to examine returns claiming these refunds to prevent fraud, which would ultimately result in tax hikes across the board. 

You're still subject to the delay even if your refund is only due in part to one or both of these tax credits. In other words, if you overpaid $1,000 in taxes and you're entitled to a $1,000 EITC refund, the IRS won't send you one refund check for $1,000 and hold the EITC refund until Feb. 15. Your entire refund will be delayed until the 15th.