Tax refund schedule 2019: What to know

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In a Nutshell

The government shutdown is over, but you may be wondering if it will affect the 2019 tax refund schedule. While we can’t say for sure, one thing is certain — the sooner you file your 2018 federal income tax return, the sooner the IRS can begin processing it and get you any refund you may be owed.

If you’re hoping for a refund, you might be worried if the 35-day government shutdown might affect the tax refund schedule for 2019.

Though the IRS kept its doors open throughout the shutdown, the agency was still affected by employee furloughs that could have created a backlog of work for IRS employees. It’s possible that backlog might affect how quickly IRS employees are able to process returns.

So, can taxpayers expect timely refunds now that the shutdown is over? It’s hard to say. The government shutdown — coupled with the sweeping tax reform that went into effect in 2018 — has introduced an air of unpredictability to this year’s tax season.

One thing’s for sure: Preparing and filing your return is the only way to start the process and find out if you’re owed a refund. The sooner you do so, the sooner you could see a refund (if you’re owed one).

On that note, let’s dig into some common questions about the 2019 tax refund schedule and look at some factors that may influence the speed of your refund.

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When is your federal tax return due?

The IRS began accepting and processing individual returns for the 2018 tax year on Jan. 28, 2019.

For most individual taxpayers, the filing and payment deadline to submit 2018 federal tax returns is April 15, 2019. Filers in Maine and Massachusetts get two extra days (until April 17) because of regional holidays in both states and the District of Columbia.

If you can’t file your taxes by the deadline, you can ask the IRS for a six-month tax extension — which would give you until Oct. 15, 2019 (or Oct. 17 if you live in Maine or Massachusetts). An extension can help you avoid the penalty for filing a late return, but any tax you may owe is still due on Tax Day. Failing to pay what you owe on time could result in interest and penalties (there are penalties on filing late too) on any unpaid balance.

When should you file your federal return?

Filing before the Tax Day deadline has its advantages — and it may be especially beneficial when it comes to any tax refund you may be due in 2019.

Prepping and filing your tax return early is the surest way to know if you’ll be getting a refund or if you’ll end up owing more in federal taxes. And knowing how your tax situation shakes out for 2018 can help you better plan your finances in 2019. So file before the deadline if possible.

When can you expect your federal tax refund in 2019?

That depends on several factors, only some of which are under your control. And remember, not everyone receives a refund.

According to the IRS, the agency issues most federal tax refunds within 21 calendar days of receiving a correctly filed return. In announcing the start of the 2019 tax season (for 2018 income tax returns), the IRS said it would “provide refunds to taxpayers as scheduled” despite the government shutdown.

As of Feb. 1, 2019, the IRS said it had already processed more than 13 million individual income tax returns and issued more than 4.67 million refunds totaling $8.71 billion. Still, there’s no telling if the shutdown and confusion associated with tax reform might result in later refunds as tax season kicks into high gear.

Once you’ve filed your return, you can use the “Where’s My Refund” tool on the IRS website to check the status of your refund. If you e-file, you can check the status within 24 hours of the IRS receiving your e-filed return.

If you mail a paper return, you can begin checking four weeks after you mail the return.

How to check your tax refund status

Other things that could delay your refund

Aside from any potential delays caused by the government shutdown and tax reform, there are other factors that could delay a tax refund.

  • Claiming the earned income tax credit. Federal law requires the IRS to hold refunds for filers claiming the EITC until mid-February.
  • Claiming the additional child tax credit. Federal law also requires the IRS to hold refunds for filers claiming the ACTC until mid-February.
  • Filing a paper tax return. It can take the IRS four weeks (or longer) to process a paper return.
  • Asking for a paper refund check. According to the IRS, having your refund electronically deposited into your financial account is the fastest way to get a refund if you’re due one.

Tips that could expedite your refund

Once your return is in the hands of the IRS, how quickly you’ll receive any refund you’re owed is up to the agency.

But there are things you can do when you file to give your return the best chance of smooth and speedy processing.

  • Double-check for errors. Errors on a return can slow the processing of your return. So double-check your math (tax preparation software can typically do this for you), make sure you’ve got your name, Social Security number and address right, and be sure to submit all the forms you need to accompany your return.
  • E-file your taxes. The IRS generally needs more time to process a paper return — and even acknowledge it has received one. In many cases, if you file your taxes electronically, you’ll get confirmation from the IRS that it has received your return within 24 hours of submission. One way to e-file is to use Credit Karma Tax®.
  • Use direct deposit. Electronic deposit means your refund will be deposited directly into your bank account, which is faster than waiting for the IRS to issue a paper check. Combined with e-filing, direct deposit is the fastest way to get a refund, according to the IRS.

Bottom line

It’s impossible to say for sure what effect the government shutdown and tax law changes could have on the tax refund schedule for 2019, if any. Some filers might be affected, while others might not notice any difference from last year.

But one thing is certain — the sooner you file your 2018 federal income tax return, the sooner the IRS can begin processing it and get you any refund you may be owed.