CONSUMER CATCH-UP: IRS tax season delay, free online tax preparation, CA 2nd worst state for drivers

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- IRS announces start date for accepting 2020 tax returns

If it feels too early to be thinking about your taxes, think again.

The Internal Revenue Service today announced the date when the tax agency "will begin accepting and processing 2020 tax year returns": Friday, February 12, 2021. That's when taxpayers can begin submitting their paper and electronic tax returns.

The February 12 start date is a bit later than usual, to allow the IRS time to program and test changes made to tax law in 2020 -- a year that slammed the agency as they distributed "economic impact payments" to millions of Americans, while working through a massive backlog of delayed 2019 tax returns.

To that end, the IRS encourages taxpayers to file their 2020 returns as soon as possible, and to do so electronically and with direct deposit instead of by mail with a paper check for refunds. One of the major delays in processing 2019 returns was due to IRS employees working from home because of the pandemic, leaving paper returns unopened until the employees' return.

The deadline for 2020 tax returns remains April 15, 2021.

IRS's Free File now open for no-cost tax preparation

Taxpayers looking to get a jump on preparing their returns can now use the Internal Revenue Service's "Free File" system.

The IRS Free File system is a hub where tax preparation services offer their no-cost tools in partnership with the IRS, and users can answer a few questions to see which tool is right for them. Eligibility for the free software differs, but in general, those making $72,000 or less per year will be able to file their federal returns at no charge.

Tax returns for 2020 can be prepared now, and most tools will hold them until they can be submitted to the IRS once it begins accepting returns on February 12, 2021.

This year, it's important to note that Free File can be used to claim the "Recovery Rebate Credit" -- a tax credit for those who should have gotten an "economic impact payment" but did not receive the full amount they were entitled to.

To get started using IRS Free File, visit their website by clicking here.

California the second-worst state to drive in, says report

If you thought your commute here in the Bay Area was a pain... you're absolutely right.

California has ranked 49th out of all 50 states in WalletHub's "Best and Worst States to Drive In" list. The financial education and services company compared the 50 states across 31 key indicators of driving conditions, including car maintenance costs, gas prices, rush hour congestion, and road conditions.

The "best" state to drive in is Texas, followed by Indiana and North Carolina. California ranks way at the bottom at 49th, followed only by Hawaii.

California ranked the highest in percentage of rush hour traffic congestion, and came in second for the state with the highest gas prices, behind Hawaii.

However, there are a few bright spots: California was number 1 in most auto repair and car washes per capita.

Finally, WalletHub ranked California the "best" in having the fewest days without precipitation. The lack of rain certainly makes it easier to drive, but as residents know, so little rain has its own serious drawbacks.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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