Tax return extension deadline 2020: How to estimate returns, check refund status and more

Laveta Brigham

Taxes are now past due. Angela Lang/CNET Though there have been plenty of oddities in 2020 — including a postponement of the usual tax deadline from April 15 to July 15 due to the coronavirus pandemic — the extended income tax due date remains the same: Oct. 15. And that’s coming up next […]


Taxes are now past due.

Angela Lang/CNET

Though there have been plenty of oddities in 2020 — including a postponement of the usual tax deadline from April 15 to July 15 due to the coronavirus pandemic — the extended income tax due date remains the same: Oct. 15. And that’s coming up next week. If you filed and calculated your tax refund, or ended up sending the IRS some money, then you’re all set for this crazy year. But if you’re one of the millions of Americans who filed for an extension with the IRS, you may still have some work to do. Read on for more details and, as always, be aware that there are many common — and dangerous — tax scams to avoid. 

Read more: Stimulus check 2: When could it arrive? We break down the dates to know

What happens if I missed the tax deadline?

Here’s the good news: If you’re due a refund, there’s no penalty for filing late. But if you owe the IRS, penalties and interest began to accrue on any remaining unpaid tax due starting on July 16, 2020. And there’s a $300 failure-to-file penalty. (The Taxpayer First Act of 2019 will increase this penalty to $330 in 2021.) In most states, taxpayers who are granted a federal extension to file automatically receive an equivalent extension to file their state income tax return. 

The big caveat: The IRS still requires you to pay your taxes in full by July 15; so if you haven’t done that yet, you’re late. The October deadline is only for filing your income tax return. It’s also worth noting that those in a federally-declared disaster or serving in the military — in a combat zone or a contingency operation in support of the Armed Forces — may be granted additional time to file, according to the IRS. 

If you didn’t file for an extension, you should’ve e-filed or postmarked your individual tax return by midnight on July 15. If you missed that deadline, you should get your paperwork in order and your tax return submitted as soon as possible. Check out CNET’s roundup of the best tax software for 2020 can help you take care of business quickly and affordably.

What changes for 2019 taxes do I need to know about?

For tax year 2019, the IRS has tweaked individual income tax brackets, adjusting them for inflation. And there are new regulations involving the standard deduction, 401(k) plans and health savings accounts that may affect how you prepare your taxes. The major changes include: 

  • The standard deduction is now $12,200 for single filers and $24,400 for married couples filing jointly. (Learn more.) 
  • The 401(k) contribution limit has increased to $19,000 but the catch-up limit, for folks 50 and over, remains $6,000. (Learn more.)
  • The contribution limit for health savings accounts has increased to $3,500 for self-only coverage and $7,000 for families. (Learn more.)
  • The “individual mandate penalty,” previously charged to people who didn’t have health insurance, has now been eliminated. (Learn more.)

Last year, the IRS was closed due to a government shutdown. This year, many government agencies have closed their doors or are working at severely reduced capacity. Many taxpayers will need to rely on online resources to help them navigate the filing process. The IRS published a 12-page PDF covering the major changes that took effect last year and there are answers to many questions on the IRS website. 

There are also plenty of companies that would love to help you prepare your taxes, for a fee of course. (Depending on your annual income, you may be eligible for free preparation support resources, though they’re harder to find than they should be.) CNET’s Personal Finance crew has prepared a wealth of tax resources to help you, including a series of articles covering the 2020 tax season from every angle: 


Tax filings needed to be postmarked by July 15.

Angela Lang/CNET

Which tax preparation apps can I use?

Tax apps are numerous, but we’ve compiled some of the most reliable tax preparation apps and services. Keep reading below for even more details on how to file taxes online.

How do I file my taxes online?

CNET has rounded up the best tax software for 2020, featuring vendors such as TurboTax, H&R Block and TaxSlayer. These companies can make the tax filing process much easier, from reporting your taxable or self-employed income to setting up direct deposit to going through your itemized deductions.

Read more: The best tax software for 2020

That noted, the IRS provides a list of free online tax prep software offered by many of those same providers. The only catch: It’s free only if you qualify to use a 1040EZ form. That means your tax situation needs to be relatively simple. You can use it if you make less than $100,000 annually, you don’t itemize deductions and you don’t own a business.

Of course, if you want to itemize deductions or have a more complex financial situation — you run a business, have investments or generate rental income — you’ll have to pay for a higher tier of service, which can run a couple hundred dollars. Still, for most people, even the most deluxe online package is far less expensive than hiring an authorized tax pro. And if you prefer to keep it old-school, the IRS’ online tax forms handle some but not all of the calculations for you and still allow you to e-file or print and mail.


A number of online tax software providers will help you file for free.


Read: TurboTax is making you hunt for its free tax filing service, says ProPublica

When do I need to file my state taxes?

This year, most states extended their tax return deadlines to July 15 to match the federal government’s deadline while a couple pushed the end date out even further; Hawaii’s state tax deadline was July 20 and Iowa’s was July 31. Missouri’s state tax deadline was May 15. In most states, however, taxpayers who are granted a federal extension to file automatically receive an equivalent extension to file their state income tax return. 

Can I file my state taxes online?

Many states have their own online tax platforms, which are usually free to use. TurboTax, H&R Block and other online tax tools can also help you file your state return and can import most of the information from a federal return they’ve already prepared, though they usually charge a fee. Check out CNET’s comparison of tax software and services to see which is best for you.


When will I get my tax refund?

How quickly you can expect to see your refund depends on how you file, when you file and which payment method you choose. Filing online and filing earlier usually results in faster processing. In a normal year, the typical turnaround ranges from one to three weeks, but given the extreme abnormality of 2020, all bets are off.

Selecting direct deposit as the payment method so the IRS will deposit your refund directly into your bank account usually makes for the fastest turnaround. An e-Collect direct deposit, where your tax preparer’s fee is deducted from your refund, may add a few more days to your wait. A paper check may take several weeks to arrive.

Here’s how to estimate your tax refund

Where do I send my taxes?

If you file online, there’s nothing to print out or mail, but we recommend you save an electronic copy for your records regardless. This could be especially useful if a second stimulus check passes and you need to check on your qualifications. For the first round of checks, your eligibility was based on your tax returns.

Otherwise, you’ll need to mail your return to the IRS. The specific mailing address depends on which tax form you use and which state you live in. The IRS has published the complete list here.

How do I send the IRS my tax payment?

If you’re mailing your tax payment, you can elect to have the funds withdrawn directly from your bank account or include a personal check or money order. If you choose the latter, make it payable to “US Treasury” and include your name, address, phone number, Social Security number or ITIN (Individual Tax ID Number). Under no circumstances should you mail cash to the IRS.

Read moreHow to handle cryptocurrency on your taxes

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How do I check the status of my refund?

The IRS website features a handy web-based tool that lets you check the status of your refund, and there’s also a mobile app, IRS2Go. You can usually access your refund status about 24 hours after e-filing or four weeks after mailing in a return. To check your status, you’ll need to provide your Social Security number or ITIN, filing status and the exact amount of your refund. If your status is “received,” the IRS has your return and is processing it. “Approved” means your refund is on its way.

I have questions about my taxes. Can I call the IRS?

There are numerous ways to contact the IRS. The agency seems to have suspended its live chat for the time being, but you can still submit questions through its online form. If you prefer to talk to a person, the IRS maintains a number of dedicated phone lines that are open Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (local time). Individuals can call 800-829-1040 and businesses can call 800-829-4933. 

And there’s always the Interactive Tax Assistant, an online tool that provides answers to a number of tax law questions. It can determine if a type of income is taxable, if you’re eligible to claim certain credits and whether you can deduct expenses on your tax return. It also provides answers for general questions, such as determining your filing status, whether you can claim dependents, if you even have to file a tax return, etc.

Where can I find help with my taxes?

There are plenty of online applications and services, and you can check out CNET’s comparison of them

The IRS usually offers free tax prep help through a number of programs. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, for example, typically helps people who make less than $54,000, have disabilities or have limited facility with English. And the Tax Counseling for the Elderly program specializes in tax issues that affect people who are 60 or older. Due to COVID-19, however, many VITA sites, and all TCE sites, have been closed. For now the IRS’ International Taxpayer Service Call Center remains available at 267-941-1000, Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET.

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