Tax Return 2021: Your Questions Answered

You've got tax return questions, and we've got answers! Get on track and submit your 2021 tax return on time.


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Updated 12 January 2022
Tax Return 2021: Your Questions Answered
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Sections on this page
  1. When will I get my tax return refund?
  2. How long do I have to keep my tax return records?
  3. Where do I send my federal tax return?
  4. Why is my tax return taking so long?
  5. Where’s my amended tax return?
  6. How do I check my tax return status? 
  7. When will the IRS accept 2021 tax returns?
  8. How do I amend a tax return?
  9. When are tax returns due?
  10. Does getting unemployment affect a tax return?
  11. How do I file my tax return? 
  12. Why is my tax return so low?
  13. Who has to file a tax return?
  14. Is It Better to Itemize or Take the Standard Deduction?
  15. Will tax returns be delayed in 2022 like they were last year?
  16. What is the AGI on a tax return?

It’s that time of the year again—tax time. We’ve answered the most common questions that people have at this time of year to hopefully make submitting your tax returns and collecting your refund easier. 

Beware of Fake IRS Phone Calls

If you receive an unexpected email or phone call from the IRS, it's likely a scam. Criminals out to steal your information and money impersonate the government agency and can be especially active during tax season.

When will I get my tax return refund?

When you receive your tax return refund will depend on when you filed your return, how you filed it, and other factors.

Federal tax refunds are estimated to take:

  • E-file (direct deposit): 1-3 weeks
  • Paper file (direct deposit): 3 weeks
  • E-file (check): 1 month
  • Paper file (check): 2 months

The fastest way to receive your tax refund is to e-file and opt to receive it via direct deposit. 

State tax refund processing times will vary depending on your state tax agency.

How long do I have to keep my tax return records?

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recommends keeping your tax records for at least 3 years. However, you may need to keep your records for longer than that, depending on your situation. 

Keep your records for:

  • 6 years: If you fail to report income that you should have reported (if it’s more than 25% of your gross income on your return).
  • 7 years: If you filed a loss from bad debt deduction or worthless securities. 
  • Forever: If you don’t file a return or file a fraudulent return.

You should keep your employment tax records for 4 years

Where do I send my federal tax return?

The address to send your federal tax returns to will differ depending on the:

  • Form you’re filing
  • State you’re filing from

The IRS provides a complete list of mailing addresses by state.

Why is my tax return taking so long?

Processing tax returns can take time. Check the general guide to processing times to better know when to expect your refund. 

Other factors that may make the processing time longer include:

  • Tax returns that contain errors
  • Incomplete tax returns
  • Returns that require additional review by the IRS
  • Returns that include a claim for:
    • Earned Income Tax Credit
    • Additional Child Tax Credit
  • Returns that include Injured Spouse Allocation (can take up to 14 weeks to process)

The COVID-19 pandemic also caused delays in processing 2020 tax returns. So, we may see similar delays again this year. 

Where’s my amended tax return?

After you submit an amended tax return, it takes up to 3 weeks to even show up in the IRS system. From there, it can take up to 16 weeks to be processed. 

To check the status of your amended tax return, visit the IRS website. You’ll need to provide your:

  • Date of birth
  • Social Security number (SSN)
  • Zip code

How do I check my tax return status? 

Checking the status of your 2021 tax return can be done online via the IRS website. You’ll need to provide:

  • Your SSN
  • Your filing status (e.g., single, married, head of household)
    • If you filed jointly, you can use either person’s SSN.
  • The refund amount you’re expecting

Note that you will need to wait before checking the status of your refund:

  • If you e-filed: Wait 24 hours.
  • If you filed by mail: Wait 4 weeks.

When will the IRS accept 2021 tax returns?

The IRS will start accepting 2021 tax returns on January 24, 2022. 

2021 tax returns are due April 18, 2022, for most taxpayers. However, if you request an extension, your new tax return deadline will be October 17, 2022. 

How do I amend a tax return?

If you need to amend a federal tax return, whether to correct your total income or change your filing status, you will need to use Form 1040X and mail it to the IRS. You cannot amend a tax return online using e-file. 

NOTE: Do not file an amended return to correct calculation errors—the IRS will correct these errors on their end. 

When are tax returns due?

For most American taxpayers, 2021 tax returns are due April 18, 2022. However, there are some exceptions:

  • Maine and Massachusetts: Due April 19, 2022. 
  • Those with an extension: Due October 17, 2022.

Does getting unemployment affect a tax return?

Unemployment benefits can affect your tax return as they are generally taxable. Most states don’t automatically withhold these taxes from your unemployment payments, so you may end up having to pay them when you do your tax return. 

You can volunteer to withhold tax from your unemployment payments, so you’re not stuck with a huge bill when you do your tax return. Talk to your state tax agency about your options. 

Your unemployment benefits taxed could be covered if you qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit or child tax credits. 

How do I file my tax return? 

You have two options for filing your tax return:

You can prepare your tax return by yourself, have an accountant or tax advisor prepare it for you, or use a paid online service, such as Turbo Tax. 

Note that if you have an adjusted gross income of $72,000 or less, you can use IRS Free File, free guided tax preparation, and filing.  

Why is my tax return so low?

In a nutshell, your tax return is calculated by looking at how much federal income tax you owed for the year, minus how much you paid. Several factors are considered, including tax exemptions, tax credits, and your income range. 

If your tax return for 2021 seems a bit low, it could be due to several factors, such as:

  • Receiving unemployment benefits: Unemployment benefits are taxable, but most states do not take tax out of your payments. This means you’ll owe them when you do your tax returns. 
  • Paying off debt: If you owe any money to the government, such as child support or state income taxes, these will be taken out of your refund when you do your tax return. 
  • Income: If your income changed dramatically this year, it could have pushed you into a higher tax bracket, which means you may be liable for more taxes than you’re used to. 
  • Withholdings: You may not have withheld the right amount of taxes throughout the year. 

Who has to file a tax return?

Everyone needs to file a tax return in the U.S. unless all of the following apply to you:

  • You are under 65 years old. 
  • You are single.
  • You don’t have special circumstances that require you to file a tax return, such as being self-employed. 
  • You had less than $12,550 taxable income in 2021. 

Social Security benefits generally do not count as taxable income. However, there are some exceptions, such as if you receive other tax-exempt income. 

Is It Better to Itemize or Take the Standard Deduction?

The standard deduction is a fixed dollar amount that reduces your taxable income. It varies according to your filing status, but most taxpayers choose this option. The standard deduction eliminates your need to itemize your deductions one-by-one and allows you to benefit from the tax deduction even if you have no qualifying expenses.

For your 2021 tax return, the standard deduction is:

  • $12,550 (Single or married filing separately)
  • $25,100 (Married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er))
  • $19,400 (Head of household)

On the other hand, the dollar amount of itemized deductions will differ between taxpayers. To calculate itemized deductions, you’ll need to add up all applicable deductions and then deduct that number from your taxable income.

Itemizing your tax deductions may be best for you if you:

  • Your itemized deductions would total more than the standard deduction
  • You own a home and paid real estate taxes and mortgage interest on it
  • You had large out-of-pocket medical and/or dental fees
  • You suffered gambling losses
  • You made significant contributions to qualified charities
  • You underwent large, uninsured casualties (e.g., flooding, fires) or theft losses
  • You have other allowable deductions of amounts subject to a claim of over $3,000

Will tax returns be delayed in 2022 like they were last year?

2020 tax returns were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic affecting processing times. This year, although the IRS states that mail is being opened within expected timeframes, they are still working through a backlog of millions of unprocessed returns (6 million as of December 23, 2021). 

The IRS warns that tax returns that are incomplete or have errors may take anywhere from 90 to 120 days to resolve

What is the AGI on a tax return?

AGI stands for Adjusted Gross Income. It is calculated as your gross income (the total money you made for the year) minus adjustments. 

Gross income includes things like your:

  • Wages
  • Capital gains
  • Business income
  • Dividends
  • Retirement distributions

Adjustments to your income can include things like:

  • Student loan interest
  • Contributions to your retirement account
  • Educator expenses
  • Alimony payments

Your adjusted gross income is used to calculate your total taxable income. Taxable income = AGI minus deductions.

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