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A slight federal filing delay

By Kay Bell ·
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Posted: 4 pm ET

You're getting a tax refund, and you are ready to file. Sorry. The Internal Revenue Service isn't ready for you.

But don't go blaming the IRS. It had to wait until Congress finally approved the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 on New Year's Day. That legislation's main goal was to avert the "fiscal cliff," but it also included tax laws that apply to 2012 tax returns.

Only after the laws were final could the tax agency start updating forms, worksheets, instructions, publications and, most importantly, its computer system so that it can run our 1040s through the system.

The IRS had already announced it would begin accepting electronically filed returns, including those submitted through its Free File program, on Jan. 22. That's about a week later than usual because it knew Congress was running late.

Will the IRS be able to meet this filing season's opening-day target? Maybe. Maybe not.

On Jan. 3, the agency's website announced: "The IRS is currently reviewing the details of this week's tax legislation and assessing what impact it will have on this year's filing season. The IRS will soon make available additional information on when taxpayers can start filing 2012 tax returns."

So we wait, most of us anxiously because, as the IRS regularly notes, each year, most taxpayers do get money back from Uncle Sam.

If, however, you are ready to file, you don't necessarily have to wait on the IRS to get started. Major tax software manufacturers and tax-filing firms say they are ready to get you going.

"We've seen this drama unfold in years past, as recently as 2011," says Bob Meighan, a vice president at TurboTax. "It always raises questions for customers. What exactly does it mean for me as a tax filer?"

For a lot of taxpayers, not much.

"The reality is that most tax software filers will be unaffected. Most filers who use the easier returns are generally unaffected," says Meighan.

And it's typically those taxpayers with such basic returns -- wage income only that's reported on W-2 forms and standard deduction claimants -- who are the earliest filers each year.

Meighan says TurboTax has been updating its software since the laws were passed, with final changes expected to be incorporated within a week.

Once that's done, with or without the IRS, users of the popular tax preparation program can complete their forms.

Similarly, taxpayers who prefer some face-to-face help also are being encouraged to talk to their tax professionals now.

H&R Block spokesman Gene King says all of that tax preparation chain's offices are open and ready for business.

"We'll file what we know is ready, what's not impacted from a form's standpoint," says King. "It's still a benefit to come and file if you can because you'll be done, have it  out of the way, and you can start your 2013 tax planning."

And both Meighan and King point out another advantage to filing as soon as you can: The IRS operates on a first in, first out basis. If your 1040 is in the first batch of returns that the tax agency accepts on Jan. 22, it will be among the first processed, and your refund will be in the initial group of checks sent to taxpayers.

State wait, too

Don't forget your state tax filings. In the 41 states and the District of Columbia where income taxes are collected from residents, state officials are responsible for their own tax laws and forms each filing season.

But there's usually a federal connection. Nearly every state starts its filing process by asking for the state filer's "federal adjusted gross income" as shown on the taxpayer's 1040. Waiting for the IRS updates so they can determine that amount for state filing purposes will mean some delays for some state tax filers.

But Verenda Smith, deputy director of the Federation of Tax Administrators in Washington, D.C., says there shouldn't be major problems.

Despite the "very, very late decisions" by Congress, Smith notes that the 2012 federal tax laws essentially are the same as those used by filers on their 2011 tax returns, so state systems were already set up for the federal provisions that might affect state filers.

"I'm not saying it wasn't a headache," said Smith, "but we're not anticipating any change to the filing season by any large measure."

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January 09, 2013 at 2:42 pm

This information was old even when it was posted. On January 8th the IRS issued a statement saying they would open tax season on January 30th this year. That is for 1040 filers without the need for some forms (depreciation, energy credits, etc.)that won't be ready until February or March.
You can't even paper file before then because they won't look at anything until January 30th. What H & R Block means is that they will hold your return in their office until they can file it. It will not be sitting at the IRS waiting to be looked at.

antonius dekkers
January 09, 2013 at 11:54 am

Be ready to pay and get less in your paycheck, be sure to adjust your with - holdings, you do not want to give a interest free loan to uncle sam.