Are you ready for the 2018 Tax Season?Jan. 29 marks the first day of the 2018 tax season, which means it’s time to start thinking about your tax return. Whether you’re a first-time filer or a tax-filing veteran, it’s important to know each year’s deadlines, keep up with the new aspects of each season and decide how you’re filing this year. Keep reading as we outline these details for you and more.

What you need to know about the 2018 tax season

As stated above, tax season begins Jan 29, but since April 15 falls on a Sunday and the following Monday is a legal holiday in the District of Colombia (Emancipation Day), the filing deadline is Tuesday, April 17, 2018, rather than the usual April 15. If you filed before the official start of the season, you should note that this doesn’t mean your return will be processed early, as the IRS officially doesn’t begin accepting returns until the beginning of the season and won’t begin processing returns until later in February.

When can I expect my refund?

Those who e-file their returns and use direct deposit can expect to get their refunds as early as Feb. 27 or within 21 days of filing, depending on when you file. Those who mail their traditional return should receive their refund within six weeks of filing. It’s worth noting that the IRS has started taking more time to process returns in order to combat tax identity theft, a growing problem that will be worse this year because of the Equifax breach. As such, it’s possible that many refunds might take a bit longer to process — remember you can track your refund on the IRS’ website. To add to this, filers claiming the earned income tax credit or the additional child tax credit should also expect their returns to take extra time to process. Also, keep in mind that this tax season is a bit shorter than last year’s, which started on Jan. 23, 2017 and ended on April 18, 2017, so taxpayers should plan accordingly.

Does the new tax bill impact my 2017 tax return?

Something else to be aware of is although the Trump Administration has made changes to the tax code via the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, those changes didn’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2018, meaning that they’ll only apply to income taxed from that date forward. In other words, you don’t need to take into account these tax code changes until next tax season, as your 2017 income will not be subject to these new rules.

Will a government shutdown impact my tax return?

Finally, while the president signed a funding bill to resume normal government operations on Jan. 22, the underlying issues causing the government shutdown haven’t been resolved. What’s more, the bill that was signed is only a three-week bill, meaning it’s conceivable that another shutdown could be on the horizon in February. A shutdown could, unfortunately, impact the IRS’ operations in a major way. While returns would still be accepted during a shutdown, the issuing of refunds and other types of support might become unavailable, giving you another reason to file your return sooner rather than later.

What you should do to be ready for tax season

Now that you know what you should expect this tax season, here’s what you need to do to be prepared:

  • Collect your tax documents. Make sure you have your W-2 and other income reporting documents, such as any 1099 forms, in addition to any forms providing details on deductible payments, like 1098 documents, gathered before you start your return. Most of these forms are supposed to be sent to you by early February, but if you haven’t received them, you can contact the appropriate parties to figure out when you should expect them and resolve any problems.
  • Don’t forget other important documents. Aside from your income or tax documents, you’ll also want to have any personal documentation on hand, such as receipts and statements that corroborate any deductions or benefits that you will claim. We suggest you collect this documentation over the course of the year, but if you failed to do so, you’ll want to start gathering them now, rather than at the last minute.
  • Make sure your Individual Taxpayer Identification Number is renewed. If you have an ITIN, you should find out if it’s set to expire and apply for a new number if necessary. Filing your taxes with an expired ITIN could delay the processing of your tax return. Visit the IRS’ website to learn more about ITINs and determine if yours is expired.
  • Watch out for scams. Whenever you’re filing, you should be on high alert for the types of fraud and scams that plague taxpayers. This is especially true if you’re filing later in the season, when tax scams are most rampant. The IRS publishes a list of the dirty dozen tax scams every year to help taxpayers know what to look out for — this is something we always cover. Follow our tax prep blog to see when the IRS releases this year’s list and get an in-depth analysis of the threats taxpayers will be facing this tax season.

What you should know about e-filing

With e-filing being the most popular way to file, a lot of work goes into making online tax services both easy to use and secure. Even though you may think all services are the same, that isn’t the case. As such, the choice of which service you should use comes down to what you need. We’ve talked about how to identify the hallmarks of a secure online tax service before, as well as how to pick the one that works best for you, but to quickly review, consider the following questions:

Are you a beginner or do you have a simple return? There are services like H&R Block and TurboTax that are not only easy to use, but also fast for filing. They quickly guide beginners or those with basic returns through the steps they need to take in order to get the deductions they deserve.

Do you need auditing or professional support? Both H&R Block as well as eSmart offer support with certified tax professionals via their in-person locations or through chat. If you, at any point, think you might need support from a real tax expert, you should consider one of these services.

What cybersecurity features does the service have? Does the service you’re considering allow you to protect your account with two-factor verification or does it use HTTPS encryption on its most important pages? Although not every online tax service takes these precautions, all of the services we review, as well as most popular services, offer both of these features.

Visit our reviews of online tax preparation services to learn more about the ones listed above. Also, keep reading our tax prep blog for more information on tax season readiness and preparation, as well as helpful tips to help you survive the tax season.