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This article was fact-checked by our editors and reviewed by Troy Grimes, tax product specialist with Credit Karma Tax®.
You don’t have to wait until Tax Day to submit your tax return. The IRS typically accepts returns from filers starting in late January, and if you need more time to gather filing information, you may be able to get an extension past April 15.
Filing your federal tax return by the due date will help ensure you don’t get slapped with penalties and possible interest charges. Here’s some info about the 2020 tax-filing season, along with what you can do if you need more time and why you should consider filing early.
- When can I file taxes for 2019?
- Why is it important to file by Tax Day?
- What are the benefits of filing your taxes early?
The deadline for filing your 2019 federal income tax return is April 15, 2020. Each year, the tax season typically starts at the end of January, with a usual federal filing deadline of April 15 (unless that date falls on a weekend or holiday). In 2018, the federal tax season was Jan. 29 through April 17, and in 2019, it was Jan. 28 through April 15.
The tax year is the calendar year for which you’re filing your return. Tax season is when you gather the documents you need to file, fill out and submit your return. So during the 2020 tax season, you’ll file your federal and state returns for the 2019 tax year.
To file your tax return, you may need several documents, depending on your income tax situation. For example, if you’re a W-2 employee, you should receive your W-2 around the end of January. You need your W-2 before filing your income tax return because it shows how much wages you earned for the year and the taxes your employer withheld from your paycheck.
The filing deadline for the 1099-MISC is the same as the W-2, so if you’re an independent contractor, you should receive this IRS form at about the same time.
If you’ve earned income from another source, check with the IRS or the organization providing the income to find out when you’ll receive any documents you need to file your tax forms.
With an April 15 deadline, you’ll have roughly two and a half months to file your federal tax return. (Note that your state tax deadline may be different.) It’s a good idea to file your return and pay your taxes on time if you can.
If you fail to file on time and owe an unpaid balance, you could be on the hook for penalties and interest on the taxes you still owe.
The failure-to-file penalty is 5% of the unreported and unpaid tax per month or part of the month for up to five months total — that’s a maximum penalty of 25%. The failure-to-pay penalty is 0.5% of the unpaid taxes due per month or part of a month, up to 25% total. This amount increases to 1% of the unpaid taxes for amounts not paid within 10 days of the IRS issuing a notice of intent to levy. You’ll also have to pay interest on the unpaid balance until it’s paid in full. As of July 1, 2019, the interest rate is 5% of the total unpaid tax.
If you’re being charged both the failure-to-file and the failure-to-pay penalties, the former will be reduced by the amount of the latter. So as long as both penalties apply, you’d only be charged 5% per month or part of a month instead of 5.5%.
If you can’t make the deadline for any reason, the IRS should grant your request for an automatic extension of six months to file your return without a failure-to-file penalty. If you want more information, check the IRS website.
Take note: An extension to file isn’t an extension to pay. If you have an idea of what you owe but just don’t have everything you need to file, you’ll still need to pay that amount by the April deadline. If you don’t, you’ll be charged the failure-to-pay penalty and interest until you pay your tax bill.
Also, if you make a mistake when filing, you may need to file an amended return.Learn more about IRS penalties
Regardless of your filing status and whether you plan on e-filing or mailing in your return, you can file your tax return as soon as the tax season opens and you have all the documents you need to complete it. If you have your documents ready before tax season begins, some online tax preparation and filing services, including Credit Karma Tax®, may allow you to prepare your return early, then file it once the IRS begins accepting returns.
Get your tax refund faster
By March 1, 2019, the IRS had roughly 2.3 million unprocessed tax returns that had been submitted for the 2018 tax year. By April 19, that number had risen to almost 6.5 million. Getting your return in earlier may mean the IRS can process it before the influx of returns. And if the IRS owes you money, you should get your tax refund sooner when filing early.
Plan for a big tax bill
The earlier you complete and file your tax return, the sooner you’ll know whether you owe money or are due a refund. If you owe, you still have until the April deadline to pay, giving you more time to prepare for the financial hit.
Potentially reduce possible tax fraud
If identity thieves have access to your Social Security number, they can use it to file a fraudulent tax return in your name. If you then try to file a return later, the IRS won’t accept it, and you’ll need to file an identity theft affidavit and go through the process of resolving the fraud with the IRS before you can receive your refund.
Of course, there’s no surefire way to stop identity theft completely, but the sooner you file your return, the less time thieves may have to file as you.Learn how to lower your risk of tax identity theft
As you gear up for the 2020 tax season, start planning now to make sure you have all of the info you need to file your return.
Filing your federal taxes early has its advantages, but if you can’t file early, be mindful of the April 15 deadline. If you know you won’t be able to meet the filing deadline, you may be able to get a filing extension. But even if you get an extension, you’ll still need to make any tax payments you owe to the IRS by Tax Day so that you can avoid any late-payment penalties and interest.
If you have additional questions, the IRS website is a helpful resource.
Troy Grimes is a tax product specialist with Credit Karma Tax®. He’s worked in tax, accounting and educational software development for nearly 30 years. He has a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in business analysis from Texas A&M University. You can find him on LinkedIn.