Color of Money: Setting up an IRS online account is well worth your while

Michelle Singletary on

WASHINGTON -- In today's world, we all have to play defense when it comes to our financial data.

We all need long computer passwords, anti-virus software and passcodes for our phones -- and we could really use an identity-theft prevention class.

You also have to get used to watching your online accounts. I have so many automatic alerts beeping on my phone all day that it's maddening. But it's also necessary.

So, in my constant quest to be cautious, I recently added another item to my watch list: setting up an IRS online account. It's one way to keep an eye out for suspicious activity with your federal tax return.

Meanwhile, I'm encouraging people to file their returns as soon as possible. But for a number of reasons, you may not be in a rush to file, especially if you aren't getting a refund. Or maybe you're still waiting for some tax information to arrive. While you wait to finish, how can you be sure someone hasn't filed a return in your name?

For me, I regularly sign on to my IRS online account. In fact, I just checked, and, with much relief, I saw this message at the top of the page: "Your 2017 tax return has not been processed."

After a return has been filed, the processing takes about 21 days (electronic returns) or six weeks (paper returns), according to the IRS. If you owe Uncle Sam, you have until April 17 to submit your return and pay your tax bill to avoid penalties and interest.

In a recent column, I directed readers to the IRS site to sign up for an online account. That particular page includes instructions to activate an account if you've received an IRS CP301 notice, which confirms that you registered for an online account. I should have made it clear that you could still create an account using either one of the first two links under the Tools section. Nonetheless, here's a more direct link:

In the middle of this page, there's a blue box that says, "View your account." Click on link and you'll see a "Sign Up" section to create an account.

But be forewarned: It may take a week or two before you can complete the process. And you can't be mad, because the security is tight when you are activating an IRS account -- as it should be.


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