In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic took everyone, including the IRS, by surprise. Because of the issues people were dealing with last spring, the filing deadline for federal tax payments was moved from the usual mid-April date to July 15th.
This year, despite the still-very-present pandemic and various upheavals in our nation’s capital, it doesn’t look like we’re going to get the same tax vacation.
As a result, and considering the pandemic might still slow down the processing of refunds and other issues, it might not be a bad idea to start working on those taxes as soon as possible. And whether you’re a full-time worker dealing with a single 1040 or a freelancer / gig worker getting a series of 1099s, the fastest way to pay the piper these days is to do it online.
Good news / bad news
There are at least a couple of changes that may be significant for those of us affected by the events of 2020.
First, the good news: you’ll be glad to know that if you got an Economic Impact Payment last year, it will not be considered taxable income.
However, if you’ve been working at home because of the pandemic and were hoping to be able to deduct the costs of your home office — think again. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) that was passed by the Trump administration in 2017 suspended your ability to deduct any job-related expenses — such as a home office — during the years 2018 through 2025. (If you are self-employed, you can still take advantage of those deductions; this only applies to those who are working for an employer from a home office.)
There are, of course, lots of other new tax quirks to be aware of. Your best bet is to either check the IRS Tax Tips page or consult an accountant.
The IRS offers a series of directions on its website to help US citizens figure out their taxes, report those taxes, and send in payments (or ask for refunds) using its e-file online method. Here’s a rundown of what’s available and where you can find it.
Your first stop: IRS.gov.
How do I file online?
There are several ways to file online, depending on your income and your comfort level in dealing with the whole income tax process.
If your adjusted gross income was $72,000 or under, you can use the IRS Free File option. The site offers a number of third-party services that can help you put together and file your taxes free of charge. Of course, that is assuming the third party doesn’t try to scam you into paying more than you have to; back in April of 2019, ProPublica revealed that TurboTax and other suppliers were deliberately hiding the pages for their free services in order to convince taxpayers to purchase additional features. As a result, in early 2020, the IRS published rules prohibiting these practices. Still, it pays to be careful.
Free File is available for those whose income is $72,000 or under.
If your income is above $72,000, you can still use fillable forms provided by IRS Free File, but you don’t get the support of the free software, and you can’t do your state taxes through this method. The forms will be available starting on January 25th. (If you’re really into doing your own taxes, you may want to check out the IRS page on tax tips, which includes how to handle things like a recovery rebate credit.)
If you’re not a pro at filling out taxes, you’re going to either have to use e-file with one of the available software solutions or find a tax preparer who can do it for you. In the case of the latter, the person or company who does your taxes needs to be authorized to use e-file; if you don’t already have a tax professional, you can find one at the IRS site.
How do I pay online?
The IRS lists a variety of ways you can pay your taxes online.
If you use tax preparation software or have your taxes prepared by a tax professional, you can have the IRS pull the funds directly from your bank account via Electronic Funds Withdrawal at the same time you file.
You can also use IRS Direct Pay to pull funds from a savings or checking account. Finally, you can use a credit or debit card; however, there is usually a fee involved (since the IRS isn’t going to absorb what your credit card company is charging for the service).
How do I get my refund?
One of the ways the IRS tries to convince you to file online is to assure you that you will get your refund faster — in less than 21 days, in most cases. Once you’ve filed, you can check the status of your refund online. You can also download the official IRS2GoApp, which allows you to check the status of your refund, pay your taxes, and get other information.