I recently received an inquiry from a reader asking about the earliest date for filing your income taxes. This is an excellent question.
As it turns out, if you’re filing by mail, you can file as soon as the necessary forms have been released — typically January 1st.
However… There’s almost zero chance that you’ll have received all of your W-2, 1099, etc. forms by then. While you can probably get much of the necessary information from your last pay stub, your final bank and investment statements, etc. I’d wait for the official documents.
I say this in part because there could be a discrepancy between your end-of-year documents and what gets reported to the IRS. If that happens, it’s best to get it sorted out before filing vs. having to file an amended return and/or deal with an audit (correspondence or otherwise).
If you’re filing electronically — e.g., using TurboTax or H&R Block — the IRS typically begins processing e-filed returns in mid-January — January 22nd, 2013 this time around. That being said, you can go ahead start the process now.
Update: The IRS has announced that, due to recent tax changes, they will start processing individual returns on January 30th.
As for when you should file, that depends in part on whether you’ll owe additional taxes vs. being due a tax refund. In the former case, you’ll probably want to wait until close to the filing deadline. In the latter case, the sooner you file the sooner you’ll get your money back.
Of course, with interest rates lingering in the sub-1% range, you’re not giving up much by going ahead and submitting your return early in the filing season.