People can still prepare and file returns electronically, but the...

People can still prepare and file returns electronically, but the IRS isn't going to move the returns through the system until later than usual. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/NoDerog

Anyone who is looking to get an early tax refund and pay off some bills in early February is out of luck.

The Internal Revenue Service announced Friday that it is going to only begin processing 2020 income tax returns as of Feb. 12. The official kickoff for tax season will be about two or three weeks later than the usual kickoff for the tax season, which often begins in late January.

The latest stimulus rollout and tax rule changes that took place in late December contributed to the tax season's late start.

Such a delay will impact those who depend on the Earned Income Tax Credit, too.

The IRS noted online earlier this year that the EITC refund can be expected "as soon as the first week of March if you file your return online, you choose to get your refund by direct deposit and we found no issues with your return."

Typically, many of those tax filers had received money in late February.

The IRS confirmed that it will process the 2020 tax returns beginning on Feb. 12. People can still prepare and file returns electronically but the IRS isn't going to move the returns through the system until much later than usual.

And that means you won't get your tax refund as quickly as last year.

The IRS blamed additional programming and testing of the IRS tax systems "following the Dec. 27 tax law changes that provided a second round of Economic Impact Payments and other benefits."

Several important tax changes were made late in the year, including how the Earned Income Tax Credit could be calculated. The economic relief package, passed by Congress in late December, also provided a second round of Economic Impact Payments — which the IRS has been rolling out in January.

Tax filers continue to complain that they are not seeing their stimulus checks quickly, though millions of consumers already have received their money.

"This programming work is critical to ensuring IRS systems run smoothly," the IRS said.

The IRS said more trouble would take place if the season wasn't delayed.

"If filing season were opened without the correct programming in place, then there could be a delay in issuing refunds to taxpayers," the IRS said.

"These changes ensure that eligible people will receive any remaining stimulus money as a Recovery Rebate Credit when they file their 2020 tax return."

Taxpayers are urged to file electronically to avoid the massive troubles that took place last year when mailed returns sat in truck trailers and could not be processed during the pandemic.

"Given the pandemic, this is one of the nation’s most important filing seasons ever," said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig in a statement.

"This start date will ensure that people get their needed tax refunds quickly while also making sure they receive any remaining stimulus payments they are eligible for as quickly as possible."

The IRS said last year’s average tax refund was more than $2,500. More than 150 million tax returns are expected to be filed this year, with the vast majority before the Thursday, April 15, deadline.

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