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How to File Your Federal Taxes

Federal income tax returns are due on May 17, 2021. Learn how to file a federal income tax return or how you can get an extension.

File a Federal Income Tax Return

The IRS began accepting and processing federal tax returns on February 12, 2021. To get your tax return started, you'll first need to find out how much money you made in 2020. Then you'll need to decide whether to take the standard deduction or itemize your return. Finally, you'll need to submit everything by May 17, 2021. 

Steps to File a Tax Return

  1. Gather your paperwork, including:

    • A W-2 form from each employer

    • Other earning and interest statements (1099 and 1099-INT forms)

    • Receipts for charitable donations and medical and business expenses if you are itemizing your return

  2. Choose your filing status. Filing status is based on whether you're married. The percentage you pay toward household expenses also affects your filing status.

  3. Decide how you want to file your taxes. The IRS recommends using tax preparation software to e-file for the easiest and most accurate returns.

  4. Determine if you are taking the standard deduction or itemizing your return

  5. If you owe money, learn how to make a tax payment, including applying for a payment plan.

  6. File your taxes by May 17, 2021.

Find out how to check the status of your tax refund

Coronavirus Economic Impact Payments (EIP) and Unemployment Benefits

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you may have received unemployment benefits and/or the Economic Impact Payment (EIP), depending on your eligibility.

The IRS does not count the EIP as taxable income, so you do not need to report it on your 2020 tax return. 

Check to be sure you received both of your stimulus payments if you were eligible. You can claim missing money from the EIP by filing for a Recovery Rebate Credit on your 2020 tax return. Missing EIP money will be issued through either tax refunds or lower tax bills.

If you lost your job and qualified for compensation, the unemployment benefit payments you received are considered taxable income. You should have received Form 1099-G which will show you the amount of unemployment funds you received during the year. Use this form to report income from unemployment benefits on your federal tax return. 

Protect Yourself From Tax-Related Identity Theft

Tax ID theft occurs when someone steals your personal information to file a tax return using your personal data. Usually, the fraudulent tax filer will use your Social Security number to file your return in order to collect a refund. To protect yourself from tax ID theft, you can obtain a six-digit Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN) from the IRS. IP PINs are known only to you and the IRS so the IRS is able to confirm your identity when you file your return. Learn more about how the IP PIN works and how to apply.

Contact the IRS for Tax Filing Questions

For the fastest information, the IRS recommends finding answers to your questions online. You can also call the IRS, but the wait time to speak with a representative may be very long. This option works best for less complex questions.

Extension to File Your Tax Return

If you can’t file your federal income tax return by the due date, you may be able to get a six-month extension from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This does not grant you more time to pay your taxes. To avoid possible penalties, estimate and pay the taxes you owe by the tax deadline of May 17, 2021.

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Last Updated: October 4, 2021