From Start to Finish: How to Make Sure You File Your Taxes Right

Nadav Shemer
How to file your taxes correctly

The extension is one of several measures announced by the federal government and IRS to assist taxpayers through this difficult period. Continue reading for all the updated tax filing deadlines and for information on how to claim your $1,200 stimulus check.

Tax Filing Season 2020: Important Dates

Jan 27: This was the first day to file a 2019 tax return to the Internal Revenue Service. Those early birds who filed in the early part of the tax season should have already received any refund owed them. 

July 15: The new deadline to file taxes for 2019 (replacing the usual April 15 deadline). The IRS expects to receive more than 150 million individual tax returns for the 2019 tax year, with the vast majority of those coming before the tax due date 2020. Note that if you fail to pay and fail to request an extension by July 15, the IRS will impose penalties (with interest).

If you don’t have all the paperwork ready by the July 15 date, you can fill out ‘IRS Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File US Individual Income Tax Return’. As the name states, the extension is automatically granted and you don’t need to give a reason for needing it. N.B. If you request an extension, you are still obligated to pay estimated 2019 taxes by July 15.

July 15, 2020 is also the new deadline to contribute to an Individual Retirement Account, Health Savings Account, Solo 401(k) Plan, or Simplified Employee Pension for 2019.

In normal circumstances, there is an automatic two-month extension for US taxpayers living or working abroad and members of the U.S. Military serving abroad. However, it appears that this year’s updated July 15 deadline applies to all US taxpayers, including expatriates. N.B. If you are a US citizen or green card holder living in a foreign country and earn above a certain threshold ($12,000 for single filing, $24,000 for a married couple filing jointly), you must file a tax return. Taxpayers living abroad usually have the right to file for an extension to December 15, and it appears this has not changed following the IRS update.

October 15: Although Tax Day has moved from April 15 to July 15 in 2020, the tax extension deadline is still on its usual date – October 15. Note that a tax extension only gives you additional time to file your tax return. It doesn’t give you additional time to pay your taxes – these are due on July 15.

Important Tax Dates in 2020

Tax season start date
Jan 27
Ofiicial deadline to file 2019 taxes (Form 1040)
July 15 (updated)
Deadline to request 6-month extension (Form 4868)
July 15 (updated)
Deadline to contribure to IRA, HSA, Solo 401(k), or SEP for 2019
July 15 (updated)
Deadline for US taxpayers living abroad and military personnel on duty outside the US to file 2019 taxes (Form 1040)
July 15 (updated)
Deadline to file extended 2019 tax return (Form 1040)
October 15

State and Local Taxes

So far, we have discussed only federal taxes. Depending where you live, you may have to file state and/or local taxes. Most of the 43 states (and DC) that collect taxes have granted automatic filing extensions – to July 15 in most cases. The only states yet to announce an extension (at time of writing) are Michigan, New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Tennessee (although these last two don’t collect income tax, only tax on other earnings).

These states have moved the tax filing deadline to a date other than July 15:

  • Mississippi: May 15
  • Virginia: June 1 for payment obligations, still April 15 for filing
  • Hawaii: July 20
  • Iowa: July 31
  • Colorado: October 15 for filing, July 15 for payment obligations

Check the Tax Foundation website for updates to state tax filing days. 

What About That $1,200 Stimulus Check?

On March 27, President Trump signed a $2 trillion stimulus package that includes payments of up to $1,200 to most US taxpayers. Roughly 90% of American households will receive a payment as part of the stimulus.

If you have already filed a 2019 tax return, the IRS will use the information on your return to calculate your payment. If you have still not filed a 2019 tax return, the IRS will look at your 2018 tax return. The IRS will transfer the funds by direct deposit to your bank account or by mailing you a check, based on the information given in your last tax return. The Treasury has set a goal of sending the first payments by the second week of April, although realistically it could take until May/June for most payments to go out.

Here’s who qualifies:

  • Individuals with adjusted gross income up to $75,000 will receive $1,200
  • Individuals with adjusted gross income between $75,000 - $99,000 will receive a reduce payment (the payment falls by $5 for every $100 income above $75,000)
  • Individuals with adjusted gross income above $99,000 will not receive payment
  • The figures double for married couples, e.g. married couples with adjusted gross income under $150,000 receive a $2,400 payment. Married couples also receive an additional $500 for every child under 17.

The Benefits of Filing Taxes – and Doing it Early

Few people genuinely enjoy doing taxes, but there is a silver lining: tax refunds! The average federal income tax refund last year was $2,869, and the year before that it was $2,910. According to a GoBankingRates survey , 27% of people use their tax refund to pay off debt, 25% invest it, and 19% spend it on a major purchase or vacation.

How long will it take to get your tax refund? Unless your return requires more-than-average attention, your refund should be issued in less than 21 days, according to the IRS. Direct deposit is generally one week quicker than a paper check. If you’re among the approximately 90% of Americans who file online, then refund information will be available within 24 hours of the IRS acknowledging receipt. If you mail a paper return, you can expect to wait up to four weeks for a response.

It also pays to file early. According to CPA Practice Advisor, filing during peak season can result in slightly longer waits. Filing can also be delayed if:

  • The return is filed by mail.
  • The taxpayer is claiming certain credits, e.g. Earned Income Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit (because these credits are routinely abused).
  • The taxpayer has existing debts to the federal government.

Wishing You a Fruitful 2020 Tax Season

It goes without saying that this article is intended as a guide only and that, if in doubt, always consult a tax professional. All that’s left for us to do is wish you an easy 2020 tax season and a generous tax refund to help you through what is a challenging time for everyone.

Nadav Shemer
Nadav Shemer specializes in business, tech, and energy, with a background in financial journalism, hi-tech and startups. He writes for where he discusses the latest innovations in financial services and products.