Federal Tax Deadline Moved to May 17

Businesswoman at her desk holding a pen.
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A month and two days. That’s how much extra time you will have to file your federal income taxes this year.

The IRS on Wednesday extended its filing and payment deadline for 2020 federal returns to May 17 from April 15, citing the unusual circumstances and burden created by the COVID-19 pandemic. State tax return deadlines aren’t impacted by the announcement, though some states have already started to move back their deadlines too, as they did last year after a similar delay at the federal level.

Key Takeaways

  • You now have until May 17, an extra month and two days, to file your federal income tax return.
  • New legislation added complications and mid-season tax code changes. 
  • State deadlines may or may not match.
  • Lawmakers had been pushing for the extension, for the sake of both the taxpayers and an overwhelmed IRS.

After a year marked by huge job losses, massive government relief measures, last-minute stimulus checks, and month upon month of working from home, the extension is likely to come as a relief to taxpayers, professional tax preparers, and even the IRS. More than 100 lawmakers had pushed for the tax collecting agency to delay the filing deadline.

"This continues to be a tough time for many people, and the IRS wants to continue to do everything possible to help taxpayers navigate the unusual circumstances related to the pandemic, while also working on important tax administration responsibilities," IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said in a statement. 

The IRS had already delayed the start of tax season by a couple of weeks after a stimulus bill that lawmakers scrambled to approve before the end of the year included a second round of stimulus checks requiring the agency’s distribution systems. But mid-way through tax season, the IRS and tax preparers were thrown another curveball after the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act last week included not just a third set of stimulus checks but a tax break for 2020 unemployment insurance benefits.

A change like this in the middle of tax season is “unprecedented,” Mark Steber, chief tax information officer at tax preparer Jackson Hewitt, said last week. “Before, we thought it was horrible with late legislation in November and December but now, tax season has started.”

The IRS issued limited new guidance on the unemployment benefits late Friday, but has yet to say how it will handle people who collected payments last year and have already filed their returns. Some lawmakers have asked the IRS to consider making automatic adjustments, but for now, the agency has only asked that no one file amended returns to take advantage of the tax break. 

Anyone who needs more time beyond May 17 can file for an extension to Oct. 15 but would still need to make any payments due by May 17 to avoid interest and fees. The extension does not apply to those who make regular quarterly payments on estimated taxes. The IRS said it will provide additional guidelines in the coming days. 

“This extension is absolutely necessary to give Americans some needed flexibility in a time of unprecedented crisis,” Reps. Richard Neal of Massachusetts and Bill Pascrell of New Jersey said in a statement, citing the “titanic stress and strain” for both taxpayers and a behind-schedule IRS.

The House Ways and Means Committee that the two sit on will hear testimony from Rettig Thursday when it convenes a hearing on the tax filing season.