The nation’s 2016 individual income tax filing season opened Jan. 19, with another busy tax season expected, as the IRS expects more than 150 million tax returns filed this year. The IRS also predicts that more than 70 percent of taxpayers will once again receive tax refunds this year. Last year, the IRS issued 109 million refunds, with an average refund of $2,797.
For this tax season, there are a couple important dates. Taxpayers will get the benefit of a few extra days to file their returns this year. Most have until Monday, April 18, because of Emancipation Day, while taxpayers in Maine and Massachusetts have until April 19 due to Patriot’s Day.
As the 2016 tax filing season begins to unfold, the IRS is insistent on three issues and resources in particular: IRS.gov, e-file and identity theft tax fraud.
There’s nothing like a free, online resource to not only help taxpayers plan ahead and get through tax filing season, but also combat the stress and chaos of calling in for answers. Just ask IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.
“IRS.gov is the best place for taxpayers to go for information about filing their income tax returns this year,” Koskinen said. “Although we will have more people staffing our phone lines this year, we expect those lines to remain busy so we encourage people to visit the web first as the quickest and easiest way to get assistance.”
In addition to all of the nuts and bolts, IRS.gov also provides tips about selecting a preparer andnational tax professional groups, so that you can get a trusted tax professional to help you navigate through tax season and tax law. This is especially useful in filing a tax return, as 90 percent of all tax returns are filed electronically, using tax return preparation software that generally includes tax law help along with reminders and prompts about tax breaks and responsibilities.
E-File and Free File
E-file and Free File are two programs that the IRS is very high on this tax season. Let’s start with E-file.
The numbers are hard to ignore – more than 90 percent of returns are expected to be filed electronically, with a similar amount issued through direct deposit. Therefore, choosing e-file and direct deposit for refunds remains the fastest and safest way to file an accurate income tax return and receive a refund. The IRS anticipates issuing more than nine out of 10 refunds in less than 21 days.
Then, there’s the IRS Free File program, available at IRS.gov. The program opened on Jan. 15, and began accepting and processing all tax returns on Jan. 19. As you might have guessed from the title, all taxpayers, regardless of income, will again have access to free online fillable forms, which provide electronic versions of IRS paper forms to complete and file. In fact, commercial partners of the IRS offer free brand-name software to about 100 million individuals and families with incomes of $62,000 or less, and 70 percent of the nation’s taxpayers are eligible for IRS Free File.
As always, the IRS wants everyone to plan ahead, especially students and home buyers who request a copy of a tax transcript or tax return information for a specific year using the online Get Transcript tool. In this case, allow five to 10 days from the time you make the request to receive it by mail.
Identity Theft Tax Fraud
Taxpayer safety and security is always at the top of the IRS’ list, but never more so than this year. Working diligently with state tax authorities and the tax industry, the IRS addressed tax-related identity theft and refund fraud issues at the Security Summit, specifically working to bolster protections for taxpayers and the nation’s tax system for the 2016 tax-filing season.
While some changes won’t be visible to taxpayers, others most certainly will. For example, there are new security requirements when preparing your taxes online, especially when you sign into your tax software account, to better protect your tax software account and personal information. Despite these intensified security improvements, the IRS will still get refunds out in rapid fashion – the IRS will process nine out of 10 federal refunds within 21 days. However, states have their own processing time frames, and they vary, with some states requiring additional reviews to ensure refunds are being issued properly.
The IRS urges all taxpayers to have all their year-end statements in hand before they file their return. This includes Forms W-2 from employers, Forms 1099 from banks and other payers, and for those claiming the premium tax credit, Form 1095-A from the Marketplace. Doing so will help avoid refund delays and the need to file an amended return later.