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Tax filing season kicks off today. Here’s how to get a faster refund

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You can start filing individual income tax returns on Jan. 24, but there may be refund delays as the IRS combats a backlog and limited staffing, according to Treasury officials. 

However, there may be ways to get your money faster, financial experts say.

Although refunds are typically sent within 21 days, many filers waited longer last year, and the IRS still hadn’t processed millions of submitted individual returns at the end of December.

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“Those numbers are just alarming,” said certified financial planner Larry Harris, director of tax services at Parsec Financial in Asheville, North Carolina.

While electronic filing with direct deposit is a perennial tip, here are some other ways to speed up your 2021 refund, according to tax experts.

Check your return for errors

One of the easiest ways to avoid refund delays is double-checking your return, experts say.

“Half of the problems are from taxpayers not providing accurate information,” said Eric Pierre, an Austin, Texas-based certified public accountant, owner of Pierre Accounting and co-host of the CPA Huddle podcast. “The IRS is a hot mess, but you’re not helping yourself with errors.” 

The backlog of unprocessed returns includes issues triggering a manual review, according to the IRS, including many stimulus check mistakes, and the agency is fixing “significantly more errors” than in previous years.  

There may be similar issues as the IRS tries to reconcile the 2021 stimulus check and advance child tax credit payments, Harris said. 

“I have concerns it’s going to create another significant backlog in addition to the backlog that already exists,” he said.

However, the IRS is sending forms to help filers who received these funds: Letter 1649 for child tax credits and Letter 6475 for stimulus checks.  

If these letters match your return, it’s less likely to get marked for review and delay your refund, Harris said.

The same goes for quarterly estimated payments and other tax forms, such as your W-2 for income or 1099-R for retirement plan withdrawals. If you’re missing paperwork, you can download a free IRS transcript to verify forms or check numbers from last year’s return.

Identity theft delays

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Another issue that may cause tax refund delays is getting flagged for identity theft.  

The IRS marked 5.2 million refunds for fraud in 2020, according to the Taxpayer Advocate Service, with 1.9 million stopped for identity screening.   

If the IRS suspects fraud, they will mail Letter 5071C or 6331C, halting the return until getting a response. And the process takes longer if it goes to the wrong address, Pierre explained.

“A lot of people make errors keying in their apartment number or forget they have moved recently,” he said. “And mail forwarding doesn’t always catch stuff.”

However, you can avoid extended delays by ensuring the IRS has your up-to-date contact information

After getting the letter, you may verify your identity online, by calling the number provided or visiting a local IRS office. But reaching the IRS may not be easy.

There were fewer than 15,000 workers to handle the 240 million incoming calls during the first half of 2021 — one person for every 16,000 calls — according to Treasury officials.

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