How Soon Can You File Your 2018 Tax Return?

Filing Deadlines and Refund Information for the 2018 Tax Year

Filing IRS Form 1096 with 1099 Forms
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"How soon can I file my tax return?" "When is the earliest I can file?" "When does tax season start?"

Tax professionals frequently hear these questions and others like them as the calendar flips over to a new year every January. The answer depends on a few factors, and filing early doesn't always mean that you'll receive your refund any sooner.  

Filing and Processing 

You can file your federal tax return as soon as you have all the relevant information and documents you need. Your employer has until Jan. 31, 2019 to send out W-2s for your 2018 earnings, and most 1099 forms must also be sent to earners by that date. 

Even if you receive your documentation earlier than this, it doesn't mean that the Internal Revenue Service will immediately process your return if you file as soon as possible. In fact, the IRS won't officially begin accepting tax returns for the 2018 tax year until Jan. 28, 2019. That's later than last year's date of Jan. 23 because the IRS has had to scramble to adjust to the new provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which went into effect in January 2018.

The IRS will begin accepting electronically filed tax returns on Jan. 28, and it will start processing paper returns that have been mailed in with payments that same day. The agency isn't legally permitted to begin processing paper returns that don't include payments, however, until after the 2019 government shutdown ends.

Several tax preparation software companies have indicated that they'll begin preparing returns the first week of January 2019, then promptly submit them to the IRS on Jan. 28.

The Deadline to File 

The deadline to file your personal tax return for tax year 2018 is April 15, 2019...unless you live in Maine or Massachusetts. April 15 is Patriot's Day in these states, so your deadline is April 17 instead, the next business day. The IRS is closed for Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia on April 16.

You can request a six-month extension from the IRS if you're not ready to prepare and file your return by April 15. This would push your filing deadline back to Oct. 15, 2019. Payment of any taxes due 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 on time. 

When Will You Receive Your Refund? 

The IRS says that it issues refunds in less than 21 days for most returns, but it can take up to six weeks after you mail in a paper return.

If you're requesting a paper check for your refund rather than direct deposit, the IRS advises that you should add on another 10 days to allow for the postal delivery process. 

Additionally, the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015, commonly known as the "PATH Act," began delaying some refunds beginning in 2017. If you're expecting a refund because you claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the IRS can't issue your refund before mid-February 2019 regardless of when you file. The PATH Act provides that the IRS needs time to examine returns claiming this refund to prevent fraud, which would ultimately result in tax hikes to all taxpayers across the board.

You can check the status of your refund and get a more exact date after that time by visiting the IRS website. However, the IRS does not expect that you will receive it before the end of February, 2019 if you're claiming this refundable tax credit. 

You're still subject to the delay even if your refund is only due in part to the EITC. In other words, if you overpaid $1,000 in taxes and you are also entitled to a $1,000 EITC refund for a total of $2,000, the IRS will not send you one refund for $1,000 and hold the EITC refund until the end of February. Your entire refund will be delayed.