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How to File Taxes: Submit Your 2021 Returns

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Last year, the COVID-19 crisis pushed the tax filing deadline back three months to July 15. This year, the last day to file taxes has been moved from April 15 to May 17. The window may be closing for submitting 2020 tax returns, but if you made more income in 2020 than 2019, waiting to file until after the third round of stimulus checks are sent could yield a higher relief payment.

Still, you’ll want to do your best to have everything in order by May 17 to avoid getting hit with penalties. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by tax season — especially after the year that was 2020 — we totally understand. That’s why we’ve put together this brief overview to help answer any questions you have about how to file your taxes in 2021.

What Is the Deadline to File Taxes in 2021?

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The last day to file taxes in 2021 is now May 17, a month out from the original April 15 deadline. In 2020, tax day was pushed back three months in light of the coronavirus pandemic. If you need even more time to file, you can request an extension and push the deadline to October 15. However, you must make your request for an extension by May 17, or else you’ll face penalties from the IRS. Also, the October 15 extension only applies to filing taxes; any taxes owed will still be due on May 17.

Should You File Taxes Online?

Filing your income tax online is the easiest way to get everything directly to the IRS with little room for error. It’ll also expedite your refund, especially if you opt for direct deposit. Software such as TurboTax, H&R Block, and Jackson Hewitt makes it simple to e-file and costs much less than having an accountant prepare everything. However, many of these tax programs now include access to a human expert if you need their assistance, albeit at an additional cost.

Who Offers Free Tax Filing?

If you’re keen to cut costs on tax prep as much as possible, you can use IRS Free File for free federal tax filing if your adjusted gross income is $72,000 or less. Meanwhile, H&R Block Free Online includes federal and state tax filing at no cost for anyone with fairly straightforward taxes. Other free tax filing services include Credit Karma, Free Tax USA, and TaxAct. (Note that most of these free options charge a fee for state filing.)

How to File Taxes as a Self-Employed Worker

Freelancers now make up 36% of the American workforce per a study from Upwork. For individuals who find themselves working independently for the first time due to the pandemic, tax time may be a rude awakening. Unlike W-2 employees, independent contractors and freelancers are on the hook for paying estimated quarterly taxes in addition to filing an annual return. Underpaying for those quarterly taxes, or not paying them at all, can be very costly.

Fortunately, knowing how to file taxes as an independent contractor or freelancer will help you avoid sticker shock at tax time. Make sure you have 1099-NEC forms from any clients for whom you provided at least $600 in services. Also, maximize deductions like your home office or any business travel expenses to help keep your final tax bill low — a significant perk of working for yourself. Most importantly, keep track of your freelance income and business expenses throughout the year. Invest in bookkeeping software like QuickBooks Self-Employed, which also helps calculate estimated quarterly taxes. There are also tax credit service companies that can help you find ways to maximize your deductions.

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Alison Barretta
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Alison is a freelance writer and editor from Philadelphia who specializes in skincare & beauty, lifestyle, and general…
How Long Does It Take to Get a Tax Refund?
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You've filed your tax returns and found out you'll be getting money back from the government this year. However, you won't see that money right away, even if you filed electronically. Several factors affect how soon (or late) you'll receive your tax refund. For instance, the quickest way to get your refund is to e-file and choose direct deposit, but you could still experience delays if there are errors in your return or you elected to file too close to the May 17 tax deadline.

As tempting as it is to refresh your banking app every hour until that sweet refund money magically appears, it's far from the most productive thing you could do with your time. Instead, check out the schedule below to see when you should expect to get a tax refund — and find out what could be holding it up.
2021 Tax Refund Schedule
E-File With Direct Deposit: 1-3 Weeks
This is the quickest way to get your tax refund. If you file online and have direct deposit set up, you could have your refund in as little as a week. At the most, it'll take up to three weeks for your refund to arrive in your bank account.
E-File With Paper Check: 1 Month
Filing online doesn't mean you'll automatically receive a tax refund by direct deposit. You can opt to have a paper refund check sent to you instead. However, it could take about a month after your return is processed for the IRS to cut you a check.
Paper File With Direct Deposit: 3 Weeks
It'll take some time for your tax return to reach the IRS if you file by mail, especially in light of the pandemic. Once your paper return is accepted and processed, your tax refund should be directly deposited into your bank account within 21 days.
Paper File With Paper Check: 2 Months
This method is not recommended as it's the most time-consuming, but there may be circumstances when doing everything on paper is necessary. (For instance, maybe you have to prepare a return for someone who passed away last year.) In this case, expect to have a refund check in your hands in two months.
Where Is My Tax Refund?
You can check the status of your tax refund through the IRS Where's My Refund? tracker 24 hours after e-filing or four weeks after sending a paper return. If it's been more than 21 days since your return was accepted and you haven't gotten your tax refund, contact the IRS.

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Tariq Owens #11 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders dunks on Nick Ward #44 of the Michigan State Spartans during the first half of the semifinal game in the NCAA Men's Final Four at U.S. Bank Stadium on April 06, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Brett Wilhelm/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

March Madness tips off later this week, meaning it's time to fill out your bracket. While we can't fully guarantee which team will be named national champions this year, we've got a few safe bets. Here are some teams — both the expected and less expected — you should know about this year as you consider who might have the best shot at winning it all.
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