What you need to know about tax season

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The IRS can start collecting tax returns, but before you file, know there are a number of changes this year.

WHEN CAN YOU FILE YOUR TAXES?

You can file your 2020 tax returns starting Friday, Feb. 12. The IRS pushed back the date when returns could be accepted, but tax preparers haven't heard any kind of delay for people getting their refunds.

"If you do a direct deposit, you might be looking at one to three weeks normally," explained Edward Gardner of Edward M. Gardner CP. "On a paper check, it could add another two weeks. It's always good, if you don't get a refund in a couple weeks, to go to irs.gov and look for where's my refund."

WHAT'S NEW THIS YEAR?

If you made charitable contributions, you no longer have to do an itemized return. If you take a standard deduction, experts said you can take $300 of charitable contributions.

Another change is for teachers. They're allowed to write off $250 in PPE gear they bought for the classroom.

WHAT IF YOU WORKED FROM HOME?

In 2020, millions of Americans worked from home. Unfortunately, expenses they incurred are not eligible to be claimed on their taxes.

That's not the case if you're self-employed or a gig worker.

RELATED: How being a gig worker could impact your taxes, finances in 2021

"People who worked out of their homes, W2 employees, even though they incurred expenses at their home, they can't deduct those expenses," Gardner explained. "But someone self-employed, of course, could deduct those expenses."

IS YOUR STIMULUS CHECK TAXABLE?

No. If you received one or two stimulus payments, the IRS said they're not taxable.

However, if you received unemployment benefits, those are taxable, including the boosted benefits millions of Americans received in 2020.

SEE ALSO: Historic number of unemployment payments could cause Texas business owners to see a tax increase

DO YOU NEED A TAX PREPARER?

The IRS website lists several free ways to file your 2020 return. There are also software programs that allow you to do it from home.

If you do that, Gardner said make sure you update the software before you begin your return to make sure it includes all the new changes. However, 2020 brought a lot of change, and experts said it's possible a preparer is the way to go.

"If someone, for example, got laid off, and they went and started their own business, there are deductions they may not be aware of," Gardner explained. "Software is good, but you have to know what to put in and where to put things."

GETTING YOUR STIMULUS PAYMENT

If you're still waiting on your first or second stimulus payment, starting Friday, you can begin using the process to receive it.

If you're entitled to the money but haven't received it, you can get the money through a recovery rebate credit on your tax return. You need to know how much money you're owed. Once you have the number, you can insert it on the form.

WATCH: How to navigate the IRS website to get your stimulus check
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If you're still waiting on your stimulus payment, ABC13's Nick Natario explains how you can get the money through the recovery rebate credit starting Friday, Feb. 12. He walks you through the IRS website to get you directly to where you need to be.



If you don't normally file taxes, you leave the taxable income section blank, and insert the recovery rebate information.

"IRS has on the second page of the 1040, there's a recovery rebate credit line to where you can get it on your tax return," Gardner said.

TAX RETURN SCAMS

The Better Business Bureau, and the IRS are warning people ahead of tax season to be careful of scammers.

READ MORE: With 4 days until tax season, IRS issues warning about 'ghost tax return preparers'

ABC13 spoke with Leah Napoliello, the vice president of operations for the Better Business Bureau of Greater Houston and South Texas.

She said before you do work with any preparer, ask for credentials, verify them on IRS.gov and make sure they sign your return.

"You want to make sure that they don't say only you can sign the form," Napoliello explained. "If they are preparing your taxes, they are required by law to sign the form and put in their preparer tax identification number when it's all final."

Napoliello also said be wary of preparers promising to give you a larger return than anyone else. Also, verify where your return is being deposited.

"It could be a situation where they're wanting any refund to be deposited into their account," Napoliello explained. "It is important when you get a preparer, you get all the funds into your account rather than to the tax preparer's. Keep that in mind when you're hiring someone. Also, if things are done poorly, and they don't sign the form as the preparer, you're going to be liable with the IRS."

If you run into a problem, you can report the preparer to the IRS or BBB.

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