How to file your taxes for free and collect missing stimulus money

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Exciting news: It's officially Tax Season 2022

This year is something of a return to form after the Covid-19 pandemic delayed the start of the 2021 filing season. But there are a few Covid-related changes you'll want to pay attention to, including how to get any missing stimulus money.

With that in mind, here are answers to a few pressing questions you might have about filing this year.

When are taxes due?

This year, your federal return is due April 18. April 15, the standard due date, is a Friday and a holiday in Washington, D.C., which pushed back the deadline. Residents of Maine and Massachusetts have until April 19.

Most state tax deadlines are also the 18th, although there are a handful that are later than that, including Virginia on May 2 and Louisiana on May 16. And of course, residents of states with no income tax, including Alaska, Florida, Nevada, Tennessee, Texas and Washington, among others, don't have to worry about filing a separate return.

You can file for an extension if you need more time, which would shift your deadline to Oct. 17. But if you owe money to the IRS, technically you need to pay that by April 18, even if you request an extension. If you don't, you'll be hit with late payment penalties.

How can I file for free?

As you likely know, most tax software charges you a fee to file your state and federal returns. But there are a couple of free options out there.

If your adjusted gross income, or AGI — which is your income less some deductions, like 401(k) or IRA contributions — is less than $73,000, you qualify for IRS Free File, a partnership between the government and several tax prep companies. 

One thing to note: TurboTax and H&R Block, two of the most popular tax prep services, are no longer part of the Free File program. But there are eight other services available, including TaxAct and TaxSlayer. Just make sure you access Free File through the IRS website so it's truly free. In the past, people have reported finding a service advertised as free via a Google search, only to owe money once they actually used it.

If you earn more than the income threshold, or have more complicated taxes, it can be difficult to find a free service. In the past, I've used Credit Karma Tax, now Cash App Taxes, to file for free and found it easy to use (I have not used it since it since it became Cash App Taxes). You can also fill out the IRS' Free File Fillable Forms on your own.

Though they are no longer affiliated with Free File, TurboTax and H&R Block do offer free options for some taxpayers. With TurboTax, those with so-called simple tax returns only — meaning Form 1040, which covers W-2 income, the standard deduction, the child tax credit, the earned income tax credit and the student loan deduction — can file for free. H&R Block offers free services for slightly more complex returns.

That said, it is easy to get upsold with these products, so watch out. If you had income from freelancing (Form 1099), rental properties or investments like stocks, you'll have to upgrade at a cost.

How long will it take to get my refund?

If you qualify for a tax refund, the IRS aims to get it to you within 21 days of receiving your electronically filed return (paper returns take longer to process). But the agency is already warning that processing and issuing refunds could be delayed this year

Covid-19 changes are to blame, as are staffing shortages, out-of-date technology and taxpayer errors that need to be manually corrected. In fact, the IRS is still processing some returns from last year

The sooner you submit your return, the sooner you should get your refund, in theory. That said, any mistakes — like claiming a credit you don't qualify for or claiming the wrong amount — will slow down the refund process. 

How do I get my missing stimulus money?

If you qualified for the third stimulus payment but didn't receive it, you can claim the Recovery Rebate Credit on your tax return.

Qualifying parents who had a child last year, or those who added a dependent, such as a niece, parent or grandparent, can also receive additional stimulus payments for their new family members.

Are there other changes I need to be aware of?

Maybe. If you don't normally file a tax return because your income is too low, the IRS is encouraging you to do so this year. You might qualify for certain tax credits, like the Recovery Rebate Credit or Child Tax Credit.

And if you normally do file a return and qualify for the Child Tax Credit, you likely received advance payments for half of the total amount throughout 2021. On your tax return, you will reconcile what you received from the IRS with the total amount you are eligible for. 

Then, you will receive the other half as part of your refund, or have it put toward any money you owe the IRS. It is also possible that you may owe some money back to the IRS if you received more than you were eligible for.

Additionally, any unemployment benefits received in 2021 could affect your refund if taxes were not withheld. And you can deduct up to $300 in charitable donations per person this year, even if you take the standard deduction. That means if you are married and filing jointly, you can deduct $600.

CNBC Make It will be covering everything else you need to know this tax season in the coming weeks, including tips for crypto investors, important IRS notices and more. Follow along, and happy filing.

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