Every year, the IRS announces when tax season begins. This is the date on which the IRS will begin accepting tax returns for processing. Usually, this date is in late January (it was January 27 in 2020). But this year the tax filing start date is February 12, about two weeks later than usual. The delay is to give the IRS time to update and test its computer systems so it can successfully process economic impact payments and other tax changes that were signed into law December 21, 2021.
The final deadline for filing your return is unchanged: It remains April 15, 2021. But you can file IRS Form 4868 and get the deadline extended by six months to October 15, 2021. The extension is automatic. However, filing an extension does not extend the time you have to pay any taxes you owe the IRS--payments are still due by April 15.
The IRS says that tax refunds should be processed in the normal time. If you file electronically and have your refund paid online by IRS Direct Pay, you should receive your refund within 21 days if your return is in order. If you file by postal mail it will take the IRS much longer to process your return--at least a couple of months. This is why the IRS strongly encourages all taxpayers to file electronically.
To help taxpayers file online, the IRS has entered into agreements with various tax preparation firms to electronically file returns for free. To qualify, your income must be $72,000 or less. See the IRS Free File web page.
The fact that you can't file your taxes until February 12 doesn't mean you shouldn't start on them now. If you're owed a refund, especially if its sizeable, you should complete your return now and have it ready to be filed on February 12. The same holds true if you have not received a stimulus payment you're entitled to. You must file your return to get the payment.
Tax pros love clients who file early before they get hugely busy later in the year. Tax preparation software is also ready to go for do-it-yourselfers. You can complete your return now, and your tax pro or software will automatically file it on February 12.
The average refund in 2020 was more than $2,500. You can track the status of your refund by using the online IRS refund tracker tool.
If you're not owed a refund or stimulus payment, there is no great advantage to filing your taxes early.