How Soon Can You File Your 2019 Tax Return?

Filing Deadlines and Refund Information for the 2019 Tax Year

Filing IRS Form 1096 with 1099 Forms
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Tax professionals are peppered with questions about when people can file and how soon they can receive a tax refund as the calendar flips over to January each year. 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 refund any sooner if you claimed certain tax credits.

All the same, there are a few dates you can count on. The Internal Revenue Service typically announces them no later than the second week in January for the upcoming filing season.

You'll Need Your Income Documents

Your employer has until Jan. 31, 2020 to send out W-2 forms for your 2019 earnings, and most 1099 forms must also be sent to independent contractors by this time as well. The date can get bumped by a day or two each year if it falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or a holiday, but that doesn't happen in 2020.

Filing and Processing

The IRS will officially begin accepting and processing tax returns for the 2019 tax year on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. The agency will begin accepting electronically filed tax returns on that date, and it will start processing paper returns as well.

That's a day earlier than last year's date of Jan. 28 because the IRS had to scramble in 2019 to adjust to the provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which went into effect at the beginning of the 2018 tax year. Additionally, the agency wasn't legally permitted to begin processing 2018 paper returns that didn't include payments until after the 2019 government shutdown ended on Jan. 25, 2019.

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. 

Most tax professionals and tax software companies, including those with the IRS Free File program, will prepare your return immediately if you have all your income documents in order. You can even e-file or mail in your return before Jan. 27, but the IRS will just set it aside until the official filing date. At least your return will be at the head of the line for attention when the gates do open.

If You Don't Receive Your W-2

Employers are supposed to send out W-2 forms by Jan. 31, 2020, but this doesn't mean that every single one of them will toe the line. Reach out to your employer and request a copy or a duplicate copy if you haven't received yours by that date. You can call the IRS for assistance at 800-829-1040 if that doesn't work.

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 be a bit of a headache. You'll have to accurately 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 Filing Deadline 

April 15 falls on a Wednesday in 2020, so that's the deadline to file your personal tax return for the 2019 tax year. Residents of Maine or Massachusetts got an extra two days last year because April 15 was Patriot's Day in these states, but don't be fooled into thinking you have extra time this year if you live there. Patriot's Day is observed on April 20, 2020, so all taxpayers are subject to the April 15 deadline for their 2019 tax returns.

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 by filing Form 4868 rather than your tax return. This would push your filing deadline back to Oct. 15, 2020. Payment of any taxes you owe 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 has historically said 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.

The IRS isn't permitted to issue your refund before mid-February regardless of when you filed 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 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, the IRS will not send you one refund for $1,000 and hold the EITC refund until the end of February if you overpaid $1,000 in taxes and you are also entitled to a $1,000 EITC refund for a total of $2,000. Your entire refund will be delayed. 

Some 2020 Tax Planning

Filing and refund dates aren't the only deadlines taxpayers have to concern themselves with. Certain payments and reporting requirements are sprinkled over the calendar year, and missing any of them could create a headache come 2021 when it's time to file again. Here are a few other deadlines you might 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 Jan. 15, April 15, June 15, and Sept. 15, 2020. The Jan. 15 payment is especially important because it's the last payment for the 2019 tax year, so this is one you definitely don't want to miss.
  • Employees who earn more than $20 in tips in the month of December 2019 should report them to their employers on Form 4070 by Jan. 10, 2020 and every month going forward. 
  • The last day to make IRA contributions for the 2019 tax year is Tax Day—April 15, 2020.

Article Sources

  1. Social Security Administration. "Deadline Dates to File W-2s." Accessed March 6, 2020.

  2. Internal Revenue Service. "Jan. 31 Filing Deadline for Employers, Other Businesses to File Wage Statements, Independent Contractor Forms." Accessed March 6, 2020.

  3. Internal Revenue Service. "IRS Opens 2020 Tax Filing Season for Individual Filers on Jan. 27." Accessed March 6, 2020.

  4. Internal Revenue Service. "IRS Activities Following the Shutdown." Accessed March 6, 2020.

  5. The White House. "Remarks by President Trump on the Government Shutdown." Accessed March 6, 2020.

  6. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 509 Tax Calendars." Accessed March 6, 2020.

  7. Internal Revenue Service. "Tax Season Refund Frequently Asked Questions." Accessed March 6, 2020.

  8. Internal Revenue Service. "New Federal Tax Law May Affect Some Refunds Filed in Early 2017; IRS to Share Details Widely With Taxpayers Starting This Summer." Accessed March 6, 2020.

  9. Internal Revenue Service. "Refund Timing for Earned Income Tax Credit and Additional Child Tax Credit Filers." Accessed March 5, 2020.

  10. Internal Revenue Service. "Form 4070 Employee's Report of Tips to Employer." Accessed March 6, 2020.

  11. Internal Revenue Service. "IRA Year End Reminders." Accessed March 6, 2020.