“This would be the same experience for taxpayers if the filing season opened in late January,” the agency said. By law, the agency cannot issue refunds to people claiming the credit until after mid-February, as part of anti-fraud efforts.
The I.R.S. said taxpayers seeking prompt refunds should file their returns electronically. “Avoid filing paper returns wherever possible,” the agency said.
Certain tax forms and attachments can’t be filed electronically, said Erin M. Collins, the national taxpayer advocate, but most can.
Although the I.R.S. won’t start accepting and processing returns until Feb. 12, you can prepare your return before that if you have all the necessary documents. Then it will be ready to submit when filing season opens.
“Don’t delay,” said Dina Pyron, global leader of EY Tax Chat, a mobile tax preparation app.
The I.R.S. Free File program is ready to use now, if you are comfortable preparing your own tax return. Free File, a partnership between the I.R.S. and tax software companies, is available to people with adjusted gross income of $72,000 or less. The program offers free online preparation and filing of federal returns, but some providers charge fees for state returns. You can complete your return now, and it will be transmitted to the I.R.S. starting Feb. 12.
Commercial tax preparers can also prepare returns and file them in February. Fees vary based on the complexity of your return. To find a reputable preparer, you can search on IRS.gov.
If you need more guidance but are on a budget, you can seek free help preparing and filing your returns from two I.R.S.-supported, community-based volunteer tax preparation programs. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, or VITA, helps people with incomes under $57,000. AARP Foundation Tax Aide helps filers of all ages, with an emphasis on people 50 and older or those with low and moderate incomes. The programs typically open before filing season and may require appointments. Last year, locations had to close because of the virus, but this year many sites expect to offer help by phone or mobile app.