The earlier you file your taxes, the earlier you can get your refund back. If you have your paperwork ready (W-2s from your employer to report any wage or salary information, 1099s for any freelance or self-employed work you did this year, etc.) then there is zero reason to wait until April to file.
If you do need additional information or guidance from the IRS regarding your taxes, then you must make an appointment. Head to IRS.gov to sign up. Again, it helps to hit them up early so you avoid the tax-panic later in the spring as that April 15 deadline looms. Plus, should you have any additional questions when you go to file, you’ll leave yourself a buffer to get them answered without missing the filing deadline and accruing nasty late fees.
Update your digits:
If you are legally filing your taxes but don’t have a social security number for whatever reason, then you likely have what is called a taxpayer identification number. Make sure this number is updated ahead of time; if you haven’t used it in the past three years, it might be expired, which could result in a delayed refund or your filing being rejected outright. It takes a while to percolate through the system, so make sure you leave plenty of time before the filing deadline to get your new number. Head to IRS.gov to download a W-7 form to get started.
Beware of delays on certain credits:
In order to get the earned income tax credit, you must have an income of around $30,000 – 50,000, depending on the dependents you’re claiming on your tax return. If you’re claiming these earned income tax credits, you might see a delay in your tax refund. Thankfully the IRS is on it and planning to update the system on February 15, but if you experience a delay…you’ve been warned.
Tax refund advances:
Taxfiler beware: if you want a cash advance for your refund before it officially comes back from the IRS, do so at your own risk. Tax preparers like Jackson Hewitt and H&R Block are promoting 0% interest if you get a loan ahead of filing, but the catch is that you must file using their services — for which you’re going to have to pay a steeper, unlike filing on your own. You might also be required to receive your advance on their credit card, which means you risk getting sucked into their other services.
W-2 verification code:
If you received a W-2 form from your employer, you should see a 16-digit W-2 verification code on the form. This is to prevent against fraud. Make sure you have that number handy, or that your tax preparer has it, to avoid delays in filing (and getting your money back!).
It should go without saying, but be weary of scams. It’s a busy time of year for email marketing scams or phone calls promising faster returns or bigger refunds so be careful, do your homework, and never give out your social security number to an unvetted source.
Okay, so you’ve filed — now what? You’re probably antsy to get your money back. My favorite tool is the IRS’ “Where’s my refund?” tracker, which keeps you posted on the status of your refund. Check it out here or download the IRS2Go app.