What Is Tax Season?

Tax Season Explained in Less Than 5 Minutes

A couple at kitchen table with paperwork and laptop
•••

PeopleImages / Getty Images

Tax season is typically the time of year when most individuals file their income taxes. Tax season usually runs from around January through mid-April, depending on who you ask, and on certain IRS requirements.

Understanding tax season can help you file your taxes in a timely manner while potentially improving how you work with tax professionals.

Definition and Examples of Tax Season

Tax season is the period around the first few months of the calendar year when individuals usually file their annual tax returns in the U.S. This generally applies to both federal and state income taxes, which are typically due at the same time. The IRS declares an official tax season when it starts accepting federal income tax returns, but that can differ from year to year.

For example, the IRS started the tax season on January 28 in 2019, and taxes were due by the standard tax day, April 15 (with a few exceptions for state holidays). The pandemic caused shifts in filing deadlines in 2020 and 2021.

  • Alternate name: Tax filing season

Tax season may be slightly different for tax professionals, such as accountants, as well as tax software companies like TurboTax and H&R Block.

Tax season generally applies to the busy time of year for tax professionals when millions of individuals file their tax returns. But there’s not necessarily a strict start date to their tax season. For example, they might be ramping up their work in early January before the IRS officially starts accepting returns.

How Does Tax Season Work?

The tax season has a typical run time from around the start of the calendar year through mid-April, but there can be slight differences. For example, an accountant might be particularly focused on helping self-employed individuals with their tax returns, in which case, their tax season might also revolve around quarterly deadlines for estimated taxes.

A tax preparer might have clients who tend to request filing extensions with the IRS. They might have a secondary tax season in the fall in this case, leading up to the typical extension filing deadline of October 15.

The primary tax season nonetheless usually takes place during the first few months of the calendar year. Annual income taxes are based on the prior year’s income, which is why tax season starts around the beginning of the year. You might not be accounting for all of your income for the year if you start the filing process in December 2020. But you might be able to confirm what you made for all of tax year 2020 if you wait until January 2021.

Tax season might not start on January 1 for some, because that likely wouldn’t give you enough time to collect the necessary forms, such as W-2s. That said, some tax preparers might be getting busy around this time, such as by reaching out to clients and prospects to get ready for the upcoming filing season.

The official start of the IRS tax season fluctuates a bit, but it's generally a few weeks into the year. The start date was delayed until February 12 in 2021. The IRS said this gave the agency time to do more programming and testing of their systems following some end-of-2020 tax changes.

The end date of tax season typically lands on the tax deadline of April 15 for individual income returns. There can be slight changes, however, such as if April 15 falls on a weekend or holiday, or when extenuating circumstances prompt the IRS to move the date back.

What Tax Season Means for Individuals

Understanding tax season can help a taxpayer file their taxes on time, while also being mindful of what tax preparers may be going through. You might want to leave a little extra time to get a response if you have a tax question for an accountant during tax season, for example, compared to the timeline you might expect if you asked in August.

One other potential advantage to understanding tax season is that it could help you get your tax refund sooner, if you're expecting one. In general, the sooner you can file your tax return toward the start of tax season, the sooner you’ll get your refund. It takes the IRS about two weeks to issue a refund on an e-filed return, but up to six weeks if you file a paper return.

You might also find that it’s better for you and your tax preparer to engage outside of tax season. For example, if you want to meet with a new tax preparer to see if they’re a good fit for you to switch to, they might have more time and be more relaxed if you meet with them outside of tax season.

Key Takeaways

  • Tax season is typically the busiest time of year in the tax world, running from roughly January to April 15.
  • The IRS sets its tax season based on when it will start accepting returns, but tax preparers might be getting into the thick of it slightly before this official date.
  • Engaging with tax preparers outside of tax season might be beneficial in some cases, such as if you don’t have an urgent issue and would like more time to meet with your preparer.