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Tax season | What you need to know ahead of filing your taxes

Arkansans can begin filing their taxes Monday, Jan. 24 with a deadline of April 18.

FORT SMITH, Ark. — Tax season is here and Arkansans can begin filing their taxes as early as Monday, Jan. 24 with the filing deadline being April 18.

But there are some things you should know and have ready before filing your 2020-2021 taxes.

Experts say filing electronically with a direct deposit setup is one of the best ways to avoid significant delays. Seeking out online resources on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website can help save some time and answer questions instead of having to call and wait on hold for an extended period of time.

Missing a form or filing an incomplete tax return could lead to a manual review by the IRS.

Last year, the agency noted over 30 million returns required manual processing. As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, there could be a similar result this year.

As of December, the IRS reported a backlog of 6 million unprocessed individual returns - some spanning back as far as April 2021.

Making sure you have what you need and obtaining your account ID from the IRS website can help you navigate the biggest changes for tax season. 

"Make sure that the information you're going to put on your return for your stimulus payments, your advanced child tax credit payments, that they agree with the IRS. If you take that precautionary step, it will speed up the process," said CPA Doug Hasley.

Starting this month, the IRS will be sending out letters to those who received a third stimulus check or Advanced Child Tax payments – and hanging on to those letters will be crucial.

“It’s not taxable, but they have to put it on their return if they got it and how much it was,” said Trish Walker, the Director of Volunteer Services with RSVP in Rogers. "If they don’t put the correct amount down, it could delay their refund up to 18 weeks.”

If either applies to your personal tax situation, by law you cannot receive your tax refund until mid-February so waiting may be the best option to reduce a delay.

Any tax refund delay can be frustrating, but compounded by COVID and a nearly 20% workforce decrease from 2010 through 2020, the IRS has run into a backlog of millions of manual processing cases. Any discrepancy or needing to file a notice with the IRS can lead to a manual tax process extending delays to months.

In fact, there have been some cases of people not receiving their 2020 tax returns. If this is the case, tax experts encourage you to call the IRS and speak to a customer service representative to see where your return is in the process. If you filed electronically and have exhausted all resources, there is another route for assistance.

“They need to contact the taxpayer advocacy group that is with the IRS,” said Walker. 

The group acts as a type of internal affairs group within the IRS and can be used to help track down the problem. The group should only be used as a last resort since contacting them first may put you back at square one.

Taxes can be stressful, but they don’t need to be. There are plenty of free tax service resources available. On the IRS website, there are free file tools, and locally there are free tax preparation services such as those from RSVP. You can also use online tools like TurboTax or H&R Block. Most of their services are free, with some add-on fees if they apply to your return. 

For more complicated returns, seeking the assistance of a CPA or in-person tax service can also help reduce the stress of filing an accurate return.

“The best offense is a great defense. Make sure that you have filed an accurate return to the state with and it will minimize any delay possible," Hasley said. 

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