If you're expecting a tax refund, the most common advice is that you should file your tax return as soon as possible. There is no reason to let the government keep your money any longer. But for some filers this year, your early tax return will be delayed because of new laws designed to stop identity theft.
Over the last few years, identity theft related to taxes has exploded. In order to reduce possible losses from identity theft, Congress passed a law that forces the IRS to delay issuing refunds for people claiming certain deductions (the ones most likely used by identity thieves).
And in 2021, there is another reason your tax refund will be delayed: the Covid-19 and Coronavirus pandemic.
Even if you e-file early, the IRS won't start processing your tax return until February 12, 2021. Yes, it's that late this year.
The sad part is, though, that many honest people may see their tax returns delayed by several weeks. Now, that's not detrimental, but it is a longer wait than in past years. In fact, you can see our estimated tax refund calendar to know when you're going to expect your tax refund.
The Washington Post reported on March 14, 2021, that the IRS is behind on over 7 million tax refunds already this tax season, with the main reason being having to send out additional stimulus checks and the reprogramming requirements needed to get checks and other tax relief to taxpayers.
We expect this number of delayed tax returns to grow, with the massive changes needed at the IRS to process things like the changes to unemployment benefits and the monthly child tax credits coming this summer.
The Covid-19 Pandemic
The staffing of the IRS is likely going to cause a lot of delays for early tax filers. The reason is simple: with many IRS workers stuck at home or sick due to the pandemic, there will be delays. Combine that with the additional stimulus checks (which require staffing and programming to send out), and the last minute tax changes that passed in December (which also require programming and testing), the IRS is stretched to the limits.
In 2021, the IRS will begin e-File on February 12, 2021. That's the latest start to tax season we've ever seen.
However, if you're mailing documents to the IRS, expect massive delays. It took months and months to clear through the backlog in 2020, and the IRS is still delayed on taking care of mail returns.
Furthermore, if you have any issues with your return, such as requests for information or updates, you'll be stuck waiting as well. Staffing around the pandemic are really going to delay anything that requires an actual human to work on.
Check out our Tax Refund Calendar for the latest updates.
Delays For EITC and Child Tax Credit
If you're a crook, you try to file as many tax returns as quickly as possible. You see, the IRS processes everything on a first-come, first serve basis. So, if a criminal files a tax return in your name before you do, and they steal your refund - they win the race.
For the government, they will end up paying you the proper refund, but they also lost the money that went to the criminals. The bottom line is that they are delaying your tax refund because they don't want to lose more money. And it is serious money - the IRS estimates it paid out of $1.3 billion in fraudulent tax refunds last year.
If you're a victim of identity theft, you're going to have to submit a bunch of documents to the IRS to get the identity theft issue resolved. This can take anywhere from several weeks to several months. It's a long process, and it's not always easy.
In an effort to combat this, the IRS is now going to hold some refunds until February 15, 2021. The goal here is to see if two tax returns are filed for the same individual.
If you're concerned you are a victim of identity theft, read our common IRS questions and answers here for more information.
What Types Of Tax Returns Does This Impact?
It's important to note that not ALL tax returns are being delayed because of this new law. Only tax returns that have the following tax credits are being held:
- Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
- Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC)
These are likely the most common tax credits taken by criminals, since they are what's known as Refundable Tax Credits. That means, even if you owe no taxes because of low or moderate income, you could still receive a refund for these tax credits.
If you're a criminal looking to get the most money possible, you'll likely want to file a return with these tax credits on it.
However, the impact is that low and moderate income tax filers have to wait longer for their tax refunds than in previous years.
How Long Do I Have To Wait For My Refund?
So, how long a delay will my tax return have? It all depends...
The IRS is still estimating that 90% of people should receive their refunds within 21 days. If you file early, the IRS will hold your refund until February 15, and then begin processing your refund. So, you could see a delay until the middle to end of February.
Based on what we've seen in prior years, we have a estimated tax refund calendar that we believe is pretty accurate. We encourage you to post your story so that others can see the timing as it happens.
If you want to get started on your taxes early, check out our picks for the best tax software for early tax filers.
Did you find your tax refund delayed by this new law?
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™, and the founder of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to helping millennials escape student loan debt to start investing and building wealth for the future. You can learn more about him on the About Page, or on his personal site RobertFarrington.com.
He regularly writes about investing, student loan debt, and general personal finance topics geared towards anyone wanting to earn more, get out of debt, and start building wealth for the future.
He has been quoted in major publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox, ABC, NBC, and more. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes.