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All of your questions on filing taxes in 2020, answered

January 24, 2020, 12:38 PM UTC

The ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has resulted in some changes to the 2020 tax season. The biggest of those is you no longer have to sweat an April 15 tax deadline.

Tax day has been postponed until July 15 due to the virus’s spread. News of that decision, made March 20, came a few days after the federal government announced it was deferring payments by 90 days.

It’s a lot to keep up with—and it’s still changing regularly. And, even though we’ve had a year to adjust to the numerous changes in the tax code), there’s still a lot of confusion out there.

Here’s the good news: You can get free help putting together your taxes. You can get an extension if things get overwhelming. And, with a little planning, you can lay the groundwork for a refund next year (or a bigger one if you’re in line for money back in 2020).

As you get started on your 2019 tax filings, we’ve gathered answers to some of the most common questions.

When are federal taxes due in 2020?

IRS Building in Washington, DC before Tax Day 2019
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) building stands on April 15, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Zach Gibson—Getty Images

You’ve got an extra three months this year, amid the coronavirus pandemic. The IRS and Treasury Department have changed the deadline from April 15, 2020 to July 15, 2020 to file taxes for your 2019 income. If you’re still not quite ready then, you can file for an extension before that date.

Special rules typically apply to people serving in the Armed Forces who are in a combat zone/ contingency operation or have been hospitalized due to an injury sustained in such an area. Those individuals have traditionally had 180 days after they leave the area to file and pay taxes. It’s unclear, though, how the extension of this year’s deadline and the pandemic will factor in to that.

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What are the U.S. tax brackets for federal income in 2019-2020?

After sweeping changes to the tax code in 2018, the IRS made even more changes to its individual income tax brackets last year to adjust for inflation. Curious where you stand? As always, it depends, in part, on how you file.

Download the 2020 tax bracket table here.

How much do you have to make to file taxes?

That really all depends on your filing status and age.

If you’re single and under the age of 65, you’ll need to file if you make more than $12,200. If you’re older than that, the minimum amount jumps to $13,850.

Married and filing jointly? If both spouses are under 65, the threshold is $24,400. If one spouse is younger than 65 and one is older, it’s $25,700. And if you’re both 65 or older, it’s $27,000. (If you’re married and filing separately, it’s $5 for all ages.)

Heads of household under age 65 who make more than $18,350 will need to file. That jumps to $20,000 if they’re above that line.

And qualifying widows and widowers with a dependent child who make over $24,400 need to file if they’re under 65 or $25,700 if they’re over.

Can I file taxes for free? How do I qualify?

You can! It’s called IRS Free File and it’s a program that works with brand-name online tax providers, including TurboTax and H&R Block. You’ll need to have made $69,000 or less to use the system, which is currently available for the 2020 tax filing season. Once the filing season officially opens, the Free File provider will submit your return to the IRS. Nearly 57 million people have used Free File since it became available in 2003.

When can I expect to get my tax refund from the IRS?

Roughly 90% of refunds are issued within three weeks of the day the return is filed under normal circumstances. That might be delayed given the ongoing crisis. If you’re wondering where yours stands (and don’t want to bother your tax preparer), the IRS has a website to help you track its progress.

The Where’s My Refund? tool lets users check the status of their tax refund, updating the information daily (usually overnight). You’ll need to provide your Social Security number as well as the exact amount of your expected refund. The tool’s also available on the IRS2Go app.

What’s the fastest way to receive my tax refund?

While it’s nice to get a big check from the government in your mailbox, signing up for direct deposit can significantly speed up your refund. Money can be split into one, two, or three accounts, including Individual Retirement Accounts, and it’s used by 80% of all U.S. taxpayers.

You’ll get your refund even sooner if you e-file your taxes in addition to utilizing direct deposit.

When did the IRS start processing returns?

The Internal Revenue Service began processing tax returns for the 2019 tax year on January 27, 2020. Late January and early February are one of two peak times for the IRS, as people with relatively simple tax filings and those expecting big refunds often file as soon as possible. All totaled, over 150 million individual tax returns are expected to be filed this year.

What are the most common errors people make when filing taxes?

Simple mistakes can screw up your tax filing, delaying your refund or sending up a red flag to the IRS.

Here are the nine most common errors, according to tax officials:

  1. Missing or inaccurate Social Security numbers
  2. Misspelled names
  3. Filing status errors
  4. Math mistakes
  5. Errors in figuring tax credits or deductions
  6. Incorrect bank account numbers
  7. Unsigned forms
  8. Electronic filing PIN errors
  9. Filing with an expired Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)

What happens if I file my taxes late?

Should you fail to file by the April 15 deadline, you could incur fees and penalties on top of any taxes you might owe. There are a number of different categories, depending on whether you didn’t file at all or didn’t pay owed taxes. The penalty for filing late is normally 5% of the unpaid taxes for each month a return is late. The failure-to-pay penalty is typically 0.005% of your unpaid taxes per month.

Of course, if you file for an extension, these penalties do not apply.

How can I get an extension for filing my taxes in 2020?

Filing an extension isn’t especially hard and can be done either via a Free File provider or by filling out a form on the IRS Website. That will give you until Oct. 15 to file your return.

For an automatic six-month extension, use IRS Form 4868, which will require you to estimate your tax liability, based on the data available to you. (You won’t have to make a payment immediately, but you will owe interest on your tax bill.)

Special rules may apply if you’re serving in a combat zone or a qualified hazardous duty area or living outside the United States.

Just don’t wait until the last minute. In 2018, the online service went offline due, in part, to a flood of traffic.

What are my odds of being audited by the IRS?

Assuming you didn’t cheat on your taxes, you’re probably in pretty good shape.

The IRS audited roughly 1 out of every 220 individual taxpayers in 2019. Compare that to 1 in 90 the prior decade. That works out to just 0.45% of individual tax returns, versus 0.59% in 2018, when audits hit their lowest figure in 15 years.

The IRS has lost close to one-third of its enforcement staff since 2010.

How can I get a bigger tax refund next year?

Earlier this year, the IRS launched an improved version of its Tax Withholding Estimator calculator. That will help you target a specific refund amount and help you best prepare for it through adjustment withholdings.

It’s important to note that income tax withholding is no longer based on your marital status and withholding allowances. Instead, it’s now based on your expected filing status and standard deduction. You can also have itemized deductions, the Child Tax Credit and other tax benefits reflected in your withholding.

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