Thanks to the pandemic and the push to get stimulus payments out quickly, the 2021 federal tax filing season will start a little late this year. The IRS on Friday said it would begin accepting federal tax returns on February 12. Normally, tax filing season begins in the second half of January. Pushing it back a few weeks “allows the IRS time to do additional programming and testing of IRS systems following the December 27 tax law changes that provided a second round of Economic Impact Payments and other benefits,” the agency said. The IRS notes, however, that people working with tax software companies, including IRS Free File partners, may prepare their returns now and they will be transmitted to the IRS starting February 12. More people than ever may wish to file as soon as they can if they’re expecting a big refund or believe they qualify but have not yet received the two stimulus payments made since last spring – $1,200 initially, then $600. To get that money in full, your 2020 income must be less than $75,000 a year if you’re single, or $150,000 if married filing jointly. Heads of household earning less than $112,500 will also qualify for a full payout. Eligible tax filers with children under 17 years of age will receive even more. To secure payment, you must claim the refundable Recovery Rebate Credit. The credit will be awarded in the same amount as the stimulus payment for which you are eligible. Refundable credits reduce your tax liability dollar-for-dollar. If a credit exceeds your tax liability, the rest will be sent to you as a refund. “Given the pandemic, this is one of the nation’s most important filing seasons ever. [The February 12] 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,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. To avoid late filing penalties, the deadline for filing your tax return remains April 15 – unless you file for an automatic six-month extension.