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File Your Taxes on Time. Here’s What You Should Know About Your Refund

An illustration of tax-related items, such as money, recipets, paperwork and a laptop.
(Lindsey Balbierz for NPR)
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The deadline for most people to file your federal taxes this year is Monday, April 18, 2022, instead of the usual April 15 deadline. That's because of the Emancipation Day holiday in D.C. on Friday.

This tax season has been a little different: pandemic expenses, stimulus checks, changes to the child tax credit and new deduction rules could have an impact on your tax refund.

If you think you'll be getting a smaller refund this year than last, you're not alone. A recent Forbes surveyfound that 50% of taxpayers overall are expecting smaller refunds, and more than two-thirds of Americans with household incomes under $50,000 don't expect a refund this year or are unsure if they'll get one.

But don't fret, says CPA Kemberley Washington of Forbes Advisor. "With so many changes, people just truly didn't know what to expect," says Washington, especially when it comes to new factors like pandemic stimulus checks or student loan freezes. "But I think once they file a tax return, they'll see for most people that they'll be OK," she says.

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Washington says most people can actually expect returns similar to what they received last year and the IRS reported that as of April 1, the average refund is $3,304 this year – a $350 increase over last year's average.

No matter your financial situation, Washington says it's a good idea to stay informed about the changes this year – and the resources available to help you with them before that April 18 deadline.

Create an online account with the IRS – even if you're not required to file this year

Washington says simply creating an online account with the IRS is a powerful tool currently being underutilized by taxpayers. Many people think they need to get in contact with the IRS, she says, when a lot of the time the information is already available from that online portal.

Have your photo ID handy to register. Once you're in, you'll have access to a number of features, including submitting payments, accessing your historical tax information and checking the status of your refund.

Here's the full list of features you'll get when you open an online IRS account features:

  • 5 years of account history
  • Account status including total amount owed
  • Balance due broken down by tax year and type
  • Payment options, including the ability to pay by bank account, credit card, or money order
  • Creating or modifying a payment plan
  • Recent payments made to your account
  • Summary of your most recent tax return
  • Any alerts associated with your account 

What you need to know about the Child Tax Credit

That online account will also make claiming any remaining Child Tax Credit funds easier for qualifying parents. To calculate any leftover funds, you first have to know how much you already received in 2021.

Washington says if you do qualify for the child tax credit, you will likely qualify for additional money this year because last year's payments were only up to 50%.

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Another reason to set up your IRS online portal: you can see what you received in 2021. While the IRS sent out letters to families who had received Child Tax Credits in 2021, the agency later reported that many of those were inaccurate. Make sure the 2021 numbers you report are accurate to avoid any processing problems.

You might still be eligible for a pandemic stimulus check

If you didn't receive the third round stimulus payment of $1,400 from the federal government last year, you may be entitled to receive the Recovery Rebate Tax Credit after you file your tax return. Those not required to file a tax return are still eligible, so make sure to take advantage of these funds.

Tips and tools for filing and following up

Once you're ready to file, Washington recommends some readily available tools to file for free and keep track of your refund:

  • Free online filing is available for some: If your adjusted household income is less than $73,000, you don't have to pay to file to the IRS. Go to IRS Free File to get started.
  • Use "Where's My Refund": To check the status of your refund, use the Where's My Refund tool available online or via the IRS2Go mobile app. 
  • Call early: If you've used all your online tools and still need to speak with someone at the IRS, Washington says you'll have better odds of making contact if you call early in the morning. 
  • Request a PIN: If you're worried about fraud or identity theft, you can require a six-digit PIN from the IRS for an extra layer of protection. The same PIN will carry over every year, so make sure it's one you'll remember!

The podcast portion of this story was produced by Andee Tagle.

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