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The tax filing season will begin on January 28, in line with previous year's start dates, despite a partial government shutdown that has only a fraction of the IRS's staff working, the agency said January 7.

The IRS has been testing computer systems during the shutdown, which began Dec. 22, with a bare-bones staff. About 12.5 percent of the agency's employees are working during the shutdown.

Tax refunds will be issued during the shutdown, a reversal of the agency's policy in recent years, Russell Vought, acting director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said January 7. In previous shutdown contingency plans, the IRS would accept tax returns during the filing season, but refunds would be delayed until the government was funded. Vought said the administration is fixing what he called a problem faced by past administrations.

In the past, the IRS has said it couldn't issue refunds during a shutdown based on its interpretation of the Anti-deficiency Act, the rules governing what type of government work is permissible during a shutdown to protect life and property. In light of the political popularity of allowing refunds to be processed during the shutdown, it is unlikely OMB would challenge the IRS's decision.

“We are committed to ensuring that taxpayers receive their refunds notwithstanding the government shutdown. I appreciate the hard work of the employees and their commitment to the taxpayers during this period,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig in a statement.

The filing deadline to submit 2018 tax returns is Monday, April 15, 2019 for most taxpayers.  Because of the Patriots' Day holiday on April 15 in Maine and Massachusetts and the Emancipation Day holiday on April 16 in the District of Columbia, taxpayers who live in Maine or Massachusetts have until April 17, 2019 to file their returns. 

Software companies and tax professionals can begin accepting and preparing tax returns before January 28 and then submit the returns when the IRS systems open later this month. The IRS strongly encourages people to file their tax returns electronically to minimize errors and for faster refunds.


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