How Soon Can You File Your Tax Return?

Filing Deadlines and Refund Information for the 2021 Tax Year

Tax forms with an envelope, a mailbox, an animated graphic of an envelope with confetti, and tax forms in a folder with a calculator, represents a headline that reads: timeline of the tax filing process, and text that reads: gather your income documents, start filing, complete on time, and receive your tax refund in less than 21 days.

The Balance / Bailey Mariner

Tax professionals are peppered with questions about when people can file their tax returns and how soon they can receive a tax refund every year as the calendar flips over to January. The answers depend on a few factors, such as when you receive important tax documents, and filing early doesn't necessarily mean that you'll receive your tax refund any sooner.  

There are a few dates you can count on all the same. The Internal Revenue Services (IRS) typically announces them no later than the second week in January for the upcoming filing season, but they can be subject to adjustment as the year goes on.

When Can You File Your Tax Return?

The IRS usually begins accepting tax returns at the end of January every year. For the 2022 tax filing season, the IRS will begin processing 2021 tax returns on Jan. 24, 2022. But remember: You'll need all the necessary paperwork and documents to file—so keep reading.

Collect Your Income Documents

Your employer has until Jan. 31, 2022, to send you your W-2 form reporting your 2021 earnings. Most 1099 forms must be sent to independent contractors by this date as well.

Reach out to your employer and request a copy or a duplicate copy if you haven't received your W-2 form. Your W-2 may also have been posted online, if you and your employer agreed to that method. As a last resort, you can call the IRS for assistance at 800-829-1040.

You can file IRS Form 4852, a W-2 substitute, if the tax-filing deadline is looming and you still don't have your W-2, but this can be a bit of a headache. You'll have to accurately calculate your earnings and withholding amount based on your final pay stub for the year, so you might want to reach out to a tax professional if you find yourself in this situation. 

Does My Stimulus Payment Count as Income? 

The IRS stated in May 2020 that the economic impact payments provided to Americans under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and further legislation are not taxable income. There were two stimulus payments administered in 2020, and one in 2021.

You don’t have to give any portion of that money back to the government, and it won’t reduce your refund if you have one coming to you. Stimulus payments aren't considered income for other purposes, either, such as eligibility for government benefits or assistance.

Many state governments, including New Jersey and Massachusetts, have indicated that they’re not taxing these stimulus payments, either. You most likely won’t have to report the payment you received on your state tax return, but check your state’s website or confer with a local tax professional to be sure. 

There was a third stimulus payment sent out to eligible recipients starting in March 2021. This amount will not be taxed. However, those who did not qualify or did not receive the full amount may be eligible for the Recovery Rebate Credit based on their 2021 income and tax situation. If you're eligible for a credit and don't owe taxes this year, your credit will provide a tax refund.

There was a major change to the Child Tax Credit put in place in the spring of 2021. It helped many families receive advance payments of the credit. If eligible, half of the total credit was paid in advance, and the other half can be claimed when you file your 2021 income tax return. The IRS has helpful tips for managing the changes during the 2022 tax filing season.

When Does Tax Filing and Processing Begin?

As soon as you have all the necessary paperwork to begin the process, you can start filing your taxes. The IRS typically starts accepting and processing tax returns during the last week of January. For 2022, that date is Jan. 24. In 2021, however, that date was set to Feb. 15 so that the IRS had time to account for tax-related changes caused by the global pandemic.

Most tax professionals and tax software programs, including those with the IRS Free File program, will prepare your tax return immediately if you have all your income documents in order.

The Tax Filing Deadline 

Typically, taxes must be filed by April 15. However, for 2022, you have until April 18, 2022, to file your 2021 income tax returns and pay any tax due.

If you live in Maine or Massachusetts, you have until April 19, 2022, to file your Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR. This is because April 15, 2022, is Emancipation Day and April 18, 2022, is Patriot's Day.

Those wishing to file their returns later can request a six-month extension from the IRS, pushing the filing deadline back to Oct. 17, 2022, if they're not ready to prepare and file their tax return by April 18 (or April 19).

Typically, the extension end date falls on Oct. 15 each year, but in 2022, that date is a Saturday. To receive the extra time, you must file Form 4868 rather than a tax return by the April date.

When Will You Receive Your Refund? 

The IRS has historically said that it issues refunds in less than 21 days for most returns, but it can take up to six weeks if you mail in a paper return. The IRS advises you to add another estimated 10 days to allow for the postal delivery process if you're requesting a paper check for your refund rather than direct deposit. 

It Can Depend on the Tax Credits You Claim

The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015, commonly known as the "PATH Act," began delaying some refunds in 2017.

If you're expecting a refund because you claimed the earned income tax credit (EITC) or the refundable portion of the child tax credit, the IRS isn't permitted to issue your refund before mid-February, regardless of when you file your return. The PATH Act provides that the IRS needs time to examine returns claiming these refunds so it can prevent fraud.

You can check the status of your refund and get a more exact date after that time by visiting the IRS "Where's My Refund?" page on its website.

You're still subject to this delay even if your refund is only due in part to the EITC or the child tax credit. The IRS won’t send you one refund for $1,000 and hold the EITC portion of your refund until mid-February if you overpaid $1,000 in taxes and are also entitled to a $1,000 EITC refund for a total of $2,000. Your entire refund will be delayed.

More Tax Planning Tips

Filing and refund dates aren't the only deadlines that taxpayers have to concern themselves with. Certain payments and reporting requirements are sprinkled over the calendar year, and missing any of them could cause a headache. Here are a few other deadlines you may want to keep in mind: 

  • Sole proprietors and independent contractors who aren't subject to tax withholding by an employer should make quarterly estimated payments on January 15, April 15, June 15, and Sept. 15 of each year. The date in January 2022 is actually Jan. 18, and its payment is especially important because it's the last payment for the 2021 tax year.
  • Employees who earn more than $20 in tips in the month of December 2021 should report them to their employers on Form 4070 by Jan. 10, 2022, and every month going forward.
  • You can make 2021 IRA contributions until April 18, 2022.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

When can you file for an extension on your taxes?

You can file an extension for filing your federal taxes up to the tax due date. Filing for an extension is free and it gives you until Oct. 17 (in 2022) to file your return. Note that this only extends when your tax returns are due. If you owe taxes, your payment is still due on the federal tax filing deadline (typically April 15).

When is the last day you can file your taxes?

The last day to file your taxes is typically April 15 or the next business day if it falls on a weekend (so April 18 in 2022). That means you must electronically file your taxes (or have your tax preparer send them) or mail them so they're postmarked on the due date. If you file for an extension in 2022, you have until Oct. 17.

Updated by
Jess Feldman
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Full Bio
Jess Feldman has been writing and editing for over five years, and currently focuses on financial topics. As an associate editor on the special projects team, she writes, edits, and develops tentpole brand projects across a variety of platforms. Since joining the financial space, she's developed an interest in finding ways to make the complex topic of finance relatable to younger generations, specifically via TikTok. Jess has a journalism degree from the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
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