Preparing for and Delivering the 2021 Filing Season

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This is an archival or historical document and may not reflect current law, policies or procedures.
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By Ken Corbin
CL-21-05, February 11, 2021

The IRS serves and interacts with more people than most any other public or private organization. While people generally only interact with the IRS when they file their individual income tax return, it’s important to all of us at the IRS that each taxpayer’s experience is one that meets their needs and preferences. We recognize that taxpayers rely on us when they need help meeting their tax obligations whether they visit for information, use an online tool, call us toll-free or need assistance from one of our Taxpayer Assistance Centers. Putting taxpayers first and meeting their needs and expectations, while ensuring fairness and compliance with the tax laws, is vital to the success of our voluntary tax system.

Filing Season, which begins this year on February 12, represents extensive preparation and real time collaboration inside and outside the IRS. The efforts of our workforce, along with the important work done by our partners in the tax community and the software and financial industry, make it possible for the IRS to process more than 150 million tax returns and issue more than $400 billion in refunds to taxpayers each year.

Employees across our agency start preparing for the filing season over a year in advance by updating forms and instructions, planning for needed hiring, and programming our information technology systems to ensure everything runs smoothly. Every filing season comes with its own set of challenges and 2021 is no different. As the pandemic continues, we remain focused on continuing to do our part to support the federal government’s efforts to help those experiencing financial changes and challenges. In 2020, the IRS issued over 160 million of the first round of Economic Impact Payments (EIPs) authorized by the CARES Act. While making final preparations for the 2021 filing season, our workforce, together with Treasury, distributed the second round of Economic Impact Payments authorized by the COVID-related Tax Relief Act. Our quick action was made possible by the work the IRS and Treasury began months ago in anticipation of this legislation. We started building on lessons learned and data we already had for the first round of payments earlier in the spring. As a result, these payments began posting to bank accounts on December 29, just two days after the legislation providing for them was signed. In all, we issued over 140 million of the second payments throughout January including approximately 40 million paper checks or debit cards making their way to mailboxes in early February.

Two important reminders about the first and second Economic Impact Payments. First, they are advance payments of the Recovery Rebate Credit, or RRC, so anyone who may be eligible for an EIP but has not received one or didn’t get the full amount should determine if they are eligible when they file their 2020 tax return. Recovery Rebate Credit information on includes information about the Recovery Rebate Credit including steps for people who don’t normally file a tax return. The credit will be paid as part of your refund, so choosing direct deposit will help you receive that help as quickly as possible. On the other hand, people who were eligible and got the maximum amount of both payments do not need to report them or claim the Recovery Rebate Credit on their tax return.

As you begin to prepare your tax returns, we strongly encourage everyone to use electronic tools, including visiting, where there’s a wealth of helpful information. We know this can be a stressful time for taxpayers, and we ask for your patience as we do all that we are able to help you in a way that ensures the safety of our employees and the taxpayers we serve. Our face-to-face operations will continue to be limited, and we anticipate extremely heavy call volume on our telephone help lines to continue into the filing season. On that note, I can’t stress enough the importance of filing electronically and choosing direct deposit. This is the safest and easiest way to file an accurate tax return and get a refund. Most people can e-file for free without leaving their safe zone with the IRS Free File program. The software does all the work and it’s free for those who earned $72,000 or less in 2020. You can even access FreeFile from a mobile device with the IRS2Go app.

Employees across our agency start preparing for the filing season months in advance by updating forms and instructions, planning for needed hiring, and programming our information technology systems to ensure everything runs smoothly.

For taxpayers who need help preparing and filing their returns, I’m happy to report that the IRS sponsored Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) volunteer sites will again provide free assistance to low-income taxpayers, older Americans, people with disabilities and those whose primary language is not English. I’m so thankful and very proud of the work our VITA and TCE partners do during the filing season to help taxpayers at approximately 11,000 sites around the country, including military bases. This year, to ensure the health and safety of taxpayers and volunteers, many VITA and TCE sites will offer virtual help to taxpayers, either over the phone or online. To locate the nearest site, use the search tool on, the IRS2go smartphone application, or call toll-free 800-906-9887. Some sites may still offer in-person tax help, but safety and social distancing will be emphasized.

In addition to the Recovery Rebate Credit, you should know about the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC, which has helped lift working families out of poverty for more than four decades. Each year, millions of workers miss out because they don’t know about the EITC or don’t realize they’re eligible. And this tax season, there's a new rule that can help people who earned less income in 2020. Under the COVID-related Tax Relief Act of 2020, taxpayers may use their 2019 earned income to figure the credit if they earned more income in 2019 than in 2020. The same is true for the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC). The option to use prior year income will help maximize these credits for eligible individuals.

Speaking of the EITC, remember that by law the IRS can’t issue refunds that include the EITC or ACTC before mid-February. Congress passed this law several years ago to make it easier for the IRS to detect and prevent refund fraud. We anticipate early EITC and ACTC filers should see refunds in their bank accounts or on debit cards by the first week of March if they filed electronically, chose direct deposit and there were no issues with their tax return. As has been the case for several years, refund inquiries cannot be answered by our toll free or Taxpayer Assistance Center employees until it’s been 21 days since the tax return was filed electronically. That 21-day time frame starts February 12, or when your tax return is accepted by the IRS, whichever is later. However, you can check Where’s My Refund? on or the IRS2Go app for your personalized refund date as soon as 24 hours after your tax returns are electronically submitted. There is no need to call the IRS. This tool is the best way for you to monitor the status of your refund because the results are based on your tax return. All you need to check the status of your refund is your name, filing status and refund amount. It’s that simple. The Where’s My Refund? tool should update for most early EITC/ACTC filers by Feb. 22.

We’re also continuing to focus on other important aspects of the filing season, including our efforts to improve service to diverse communities in our country. To better assist and appropriately respect these communities, more information in non-English languages is available to help taxpayers this filing season. For example, we are providing the Form 1040 this year in Spanish for the first time. We have also made Publication 1, Your Rights as a Taxpayer, available in 20 languages, and when taxpayers call us for help, we are giving them access to over-the-phone interpreter services in more than 350 languages. I’m incredibly proud of the IRS for moving forward on these initiatives and will continue to expand on these efforts to help the underserved communities in our country.

Finally, as we head into the filing season, I want to reassure you that the IRS is dedicated to serving our nation. We have added to our capabilities the lessons learned and best practices of 2020, and we are ready, willing and able to help taxpayers meet the April 15 filing deadline.

Ken Corbin
Commissioner, Wage and Investment Division
Chief Taxpayer Experience Officer

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About the Author

Ken Corbin is IRS’ first Chief Taxpayer Experience Officer. In this role, he’s working to unify and expand efforts across the agency to improve the customer experience for all citizens interacting with the IRS.

Ken is also Commissioner of the Wage and Investment Division, with responsibility for 37,000 employees, located across the country, who are administering tax laws governing individual U.S. wage earners.


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