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
Filing IRS Form 1096. Hanson Quan/Getty Images

"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 

Your employer had until Jan. 31, 2019 to send out W-2 forms for your 2018 earnings, and most 1099 forms also had to be sent to independent contractors by that date. 

The IRS didn't officially begin accepting tax returns for the 2018 tax year until Jan. 28, 2019. The agency began accepting electronically filed tax returns on that date, and it started processing paper returns that were mailed in with payments as well. 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.

You can file your federal tax return as soon as you have all the relevant information and documents you’ll need, but this doesn’t mean that the IRS will immediately process your return. 

The agency wasn't legally permitted to begin processing paper returns that didn't include payments until after the 2019 government shutdown ended on Jan. 25, 2019.

If You Don't Receive Your W-2

Employers are supposed to send out W-2 forms by Jan. 31, 2019, but this doesn't mean that every single one of them toed the line. Reach out to your employer and request a copy or a duplicate copy if you haven't received yours. If that doesn't work, call the IRS for assistance at 800-829-1040.

You can file IRS Form 4852, a W-2 substitute, if the April filing deadline is looming and you still don't have your W-2, but this might put you in a bit of a predicament. You'll have to calculate your earnings and withholding from your final pay stub, assuming you still have it. You might want to reach out to a tax professional if you find yourself in this situation.

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. But the IRS is closed for Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia on April 16, so you get still another day to file.

You can request a six-month extension from the IRS if you're not ready to prepare and file your tax 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. 

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 filed. The PATH Act provides that the IRS needs time to examine returns claiming these refunds 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.

You're still subject to the delay even if your refund is only due in part to the EITC or the child tax credit. 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.