In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic took everyone, including the IRS, by surprise, and the filing deadline for federal tax payments was moved from the usual mid-April date to July 15th. In 2021, the due date was pushed back to May 17th, 2021. Right now, however, it looks like we’ll be back to the traditional mid-April due dates.
Actually, because the tax deadline can’t be the same day as an official holiday, most of us have until April 18th (April 15th is Emancipation Day in DC). If you live in Maine or Massachusetts, you actually have until April 19th because of Patriots’ Day. Need an extension? After you’ve applied for that extension, you have until October 17th.
However, the IRS has also made it known that the pandemic is still slowing down some operations, such as processing returns filed on paper. As a result, it might not be a bad idea to start working on those taxes as soon as possible — and to submit them online. In fact, 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.
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.
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 $73,000 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.
If your income is above $73,000, 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 24th. (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 gig economy earnings.)
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. For those whose income is $58,000 or less, the IRS has a program called the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) to help with tax preparation; there is also Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) for people who are 60 or older. The page describing these programs has a locator tool so you can find one of these sites near you; considering the current pandemic, it’s likely that much of the help will happen over the phone or via videoconferencing.
If you use a tax preparer, 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 the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) at the same time you file. Be aware that, according to the IRS, it can take up to five business days to process a new enrollment.
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 a fee involved (since the IRS isn’t going to absorb what your credit card company is charging for the service). In fact, if you use a credit card, you may have to add as much as 1.98 percent of your payment amount.
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, although there are exceptions. Once you’ve filed, you can check the status of your refund online. You can also download the official IRS2Go mobile app, which allows you to check the status of your refund, pay your taxes, and get other information.