After preparing your tax return and discovering you’ll get a refund, you might start planning how to spend or save it. Not so fast! Mistakes on your 1040 can keep you waiting for that refund.
“When your return is right to start with, the chances that you’ll get your refund quickly go way up. Likewise, the chances that you’ll get a letter from the IRS go way down — and that’s always good news,” says IRS spokesperson Eric Smith.
We talked to experts about common missteps that can slow the processing of your tax return and getting your refund. Avoid these six errors to get your refund faster.
1. Filing a paper return
The IRS is stressing the importance of filing online, not by mail, to receive a timely refund. Most taxpayers who file a tax return with no issues should receive a refund within 21 days if they e-file and choose direct deposit, according to the IRS. But filing a paper return will result in an “extended refund delay” because of enormous challenges related to the pandemic, the IRS says.
The agency recommends taxpayers use software, a trusted tax professional or IRS Free File on IRS.gov. “Even in a more normal year, electronic filing is always a good idea,” says Smith. “Now, with the pandemic, it’s a great idea, and it’s your best chance of getting a quick refund.”
Just over 90 percent of people file electronically. Others complete their return with pen and paper and mail it. Still others prepare their return with software, then print it out to send to the IRS. For tax year 2019, more than 40 percent of taxpayers who filed a paper return used software before printing it, according to the IRS. “Don’t hit print, hit send,” Smith advises, noting the savings in paper, postage and time.
You also want to get your refund by direct deposit. “The IRS prefers to directly deposit refunds rather than mail a paper check because it’s more secure, it’s faster and I think it’s less costly for them,” says Pamela Rodriguez Reiffert, a CPA in San Antonio.
2. Forgetting to sign your return
“Sending in an unsigned paper return is like sending in no return at all. At that point, it’s not valid,” says Smith. “We have to send it back to you for your signature. Then you have to send it back to us. So, unfortunately, it then becomes part of our paper backlog.”
Tax software, however, has built-in prompts that won’t let you e-file without an electronic signature, which is another reason to file electronically. “It’s pretty much foolproof,” says Raven Deerwater, an enrolled agent in Mendocino, Calif. Enrolled agents prepare tax returns and also represent taxpayers before the IRS.