What is the PATH Act and How Does it Affect Tax Filers?

While electronic filing offers a convenient way for taxpayers to file their tax returns and expedite their refunds. The speed with which the IRS tries to process the refunds of e-filed returns also makes this type of filing a target for refund theft. According to the IRS, more than $5.8 billion in fraudulent refunds were e-filed between 2011 and 2014 alone. To protect filers' identities and to thwart fraud, the IRS and many states installed safeguards that require people to supply more information in order to verify their identities.

The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act was adopted in December 2015, and various components of this massive tax bill went into effect during the 2016 and 2017 tax years. For most taxpayers, the most significant aspect of the PATH Act is extensions to the deadlines on many tax credits. These are credits which many individuals and small business owners claim.

EITC/ACTC Extensions and W-2/1099 Deadlines

The PATH Act requires that the IRS not release refunds to taxpayers who claimed either Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC) or the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) until February 15 or later. For taxpayers not claiming EITC or ACTC credits, refunds will not be delayed. After February 15, all refunds — with or without the EITC and ACTC credits — will be processed according to schedule (usually within 21 days).

The IRS has stated that this delay is necessary to ensure returns are scrutinized to combat identity theft and fraud. For 2017, those tax payers who claim the EITC or the ACTC credits, tax refunds will not begin to be mailed or direct deposited until February 21.

The PATH Act also requires that businesses transmit all W-2, W-3, 1099 and 1096 forms no later than January 31. Asking businesses to expedite the speed in which they provide these forms, allows the IRS more time to verify the information and combat fraud.

Other Extensions And Adjustments

The PATH Act also adopted a few other revisions that, while meaningful, do not impact as many taxpayers as the EITC/ACTC extension and business deadlines. These revisions included making certain tax breaks permanent, specifications for certain deductions, phase out limits on the amount which can be deducted when certain income levels are exceeded and more.

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