Can You File Taxes in December?

by Lena

A question I often get asked in early December is this – can I file my taxes now or do I have to wait until the first of the year?  It’s a logical question and one I wish I could give a more popular answer to, but the answer is no – you should not file your taxes before the year has ended.

Why Can’t You File Taxes Early in December?

You shouldn’t file your taxes before year end for two reasons:

  1. You can’t be 100% sure you won’t receive any more taxable income before the year is over.
  2. The IRS can’t process returns that early.

The United States has a self-reporting tax filing system, which means that Americans are asked to honestly report all income earned for the year on their annual income tax returns.  If you don’t wait until the year is over before you sum up your earnings, it has the appearance of being deceiptful.  How can you be sure on December 10th that you won’t receive any other taxable income before year end?  You can’t, really.  Sure, some people could argue that they are on fixed incomes and definitely won’t receive more income for the year.  But if the IRS started making exceptions for some people, then everyone would want to join in.

Typically, the IRS uploads the current year’s tax forms and related instructions on irs.gov in December.  Sometimes, this process is delayed by last-minute tax reform that changes the current year’s tax rules; sometimes, it’s because the IRS is making sure its forms are able to be processed through a new filing system.  A good example of this would be when President Obama signed into law The Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 in mid-December 2010.  That bill contained provisions that impacted 2010 tax returns, so there was a corresponding tax return acceptance delay as the IRS scrambled to make necessary tax form and processing system changes in response.

Earliest Date to File Taxes – 2011 Tax Returns

The IRS will begin accepting 2011 tax returns on Tuesday, January 17, 2012.  If you mail your return before then, it will be held until that time.  If you file electronically before that date (with a service like TurboTax or H&R Block), it will be held for processing until that date.

What is the Last Day to File Your 2011 Tax Return?

Individual 2011 tax returns should either be filed or extended by April  15, 2012.  In the case of extension, you will get six months to file your extended tax return, or until October 15, 2012.

Getting a Head Start in December

Just because you can’t file your tax return in December with a clear conscience, that doesn’t mean you can’t get a head start on gathering necessary documentation.  You won’t begin receiving 2011 W-2s and 1099s until January, after companies have time to compile accurate tax information for those forms; however, you can sit down and review your prior year return for other information you may need.

For instance, do you have all receipts to document charitable contributions?  Do you have the Social Security Numbers for any new dependents?  If you are eligible for any new tax credits, do you know the relevant details you will need in order to claim them?  If you itemize on Schedule A, can you go ahead and print out expense documentation such as property taxes already paid for the year?  You get the idea.

If you have a properly maintained file for your prior year’s tax return, take out that return’s documentation and try to compile an identical stack of papers for the current year, with the exception of the documents you are waiting to receive from an employer.  When those W-2s and 1099s do come in January, you will ready to go!

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