or lower refund. In previous years, you could claim a personal-exemption deduction for yourself, your spouse or your dependents. Personal exemptions are now gone, having been replaced by higher standard deductions and an increase in the child-tax credit, which grew from a maximum of $1,000 to $2,000 per qualifying child under 17.
For individuals and married couples filing separately, standard deductions increased from $6,350 to $12,000. The deductions for heads of household went from $9,350 to $18,000, and for married couples filing jointly, it went from $12,700 to $24,000. The total combined deduction for sales, property and state and local taxes is now limited to $10,000 ($5,000 if married filing separately). Any state and local taxes you paid above this limit cannot be deducted.
During a normal tax season, if there aren’t any issues with your return and you e-file, you can get your refund in fewer than 21 calendar days. About four out of five refund recipients now choose direct deposit, which speeds up delivery of your refund, according to IRS spokesman Eric Smith. If you mail your return, it could take six weeks or more.
But this year is anything but typical. Although thousands of furloughed IRS employees were called back to work during the 35-day shutdown to process tax refunds, some staff were granted permission to skip work due to financial hardship.
“As in previous years, we continue to pay refunds within our normal time frames,” Smith said. “Taxpayers should continue to file their tax returns as they normally would.”
Whatever happens with the border-wall negotiations, you can go online at irs.gov to check the status of your refund by using the agency’s “Where’s My Refund?” tool. You can also download the IRS2Go app on your mobile device to track your refund. You should be able to view your refund status 24 hours after you e-file, and after four weeks if you file a paper return.
For people claiming the earned-income tax credit (EITC) or the additional child tax credit (ACTC), the IRS says it can’t issue refunds before Feb. 15 anyway due to another law, the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act.
“Some people have misinterpreted that to mean they can’t even file until that date, even if they’re ready. That’s not the case,” Smith said.
The earliest that refunds related to EITC or ACTC will be available in bank accounts or debit cards is Feb. 27 if a taxpayer chooses direct deposit and there are no other issues with the return, according to the IRS. “Where’s My Refund?” will be updated with projected deposit dates for most early EITC and ACTC refund filers by Feb. 23, Smith said.
If your refund is delayed by a shutdown, maybe that’s a sign that it’s time to change how much your employer withholds from your paycheck so that you aren’t getting large refunds year after year. Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is michelle.single[email protected] washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter (@ SingletaryM) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/ MichelleSingletary). Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.