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Will the Government Shutdown Delay Your Tax Refund This Year? 66% of Americans Think Yes

Maurie Backman, The Motley Fool

The 35-day mega-shutdown that impacted hundreds of thousands of government workers sparked rumors of a delayed tax season back in January. While the IRS insists that tax refunds won't be delayed because of it, Americans aren't so sure. In fact, 66% of people believe that they'll experience a lag in getting their money back from the IRS because of the previous shutdown, according to Jackson Hewitt Tax Service. With another one potentially looming, their concern isn't totally unfounded.

Now, the good news: The IRS has automated much of its tax processing so that error-free returns that are filed electronically can generally be processed pretty quickly, even when the agency, which has been short-staffed since well before the first shutdown, is low on manpower. Still, many Americans worry things won't go so smoothly this tax season, and for those who rely on their refunds to cover major bills, the thought of a delay is a significant source of stress.

A tax form with a calculator and a hand with a pen above it.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

And make no mistake about it: Lots of Americans bank on their refunds to pay for things like home maintenance, car repairs, and medical care. In fact, a study released last year confirmed that Americans are routinely delaying medical care until a windfall comes through, and for many, a tax refund is their only hope of getting some sort of lump sum.

If you're counting on your tax refund to arrive on time, there are certain steps you can take to avoid contributing to a potential delay. Here are a few to be aware of.

1. File electronically

If you've spent most of your life filing a paper return, the process might be more familiar to you than filing electronically. But if you're willing to go the latter route, you could end up expediting your refund quite a bit.

The IRS says that refunds for electronically filed returns are generally issued within three weeks, whereas you might wait twice as long if you file on paper. Signing up for direct deposit can further expedite the process as opposed to waiting for a physical check to arrive in the mail.

2. Avoid common mistakes on your tax return

All it takes is a single error to expose your taxes to additional verification or scrutiny, thereby delaying the refund process. A better bet? Check your taxes carefully before submitting them. Be sure to watch out for key traps like failing to report income, choosing the wrong filing status, or botching your Social Security number.

3. Hire a tax professional early

If you're planning to use a tax preparer this year, you'd better find one sooner rather than later. This year is the first in which the 2018 tax changes come into play on returns, which means many professionals are apt to have their hands fuller than ever.

If you don't get moving on hiring a tax professional, you might have no choice but to rely on free help from the IRS to answer your tax questions. And if there's another shutdown, who's to say whether IRS help will actually be available this season?

It's too soon to tell whether politics will impede the refund process, but one thing's for sure: If you want your money on time, don't put off your tax return. The sooner you submit it, the sooner you'll get whatever cash is coming your way.

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