Taxes

How an Online IRS Account Can Help You (Finally) Finish Your Taxes

Registering with the IRS online could get you the missing info you need to complete your 2021 tax return.

You can look up your stimulus and child tax credit payments from 2021 online.
Angela Lang/CNET

This story is part of Taxes 2022, CNET's coverage of the best tax software and everything else you need to get your return filed quickly, accurately and on-time.

We're down to the wire -- the federal tax deadline is only days away, on Monday, April 18. The IRS has issued more than 70 million tax refunds and it's time to get yours.

Even if you don't have a complicated tax situation, completing your tax return this year can be tricky -- you'll need to report your stimulus check payments and advance child tax credit payments, plus you also need your exact adjusted gross income (AGI) from 2020 to even file electronically.

If you're missing any of that info, don't stress. All of it can be found on the IRS website after you've created your own online IRS account. The account requires registration with ID.me, a third-party identity verification service, and takes a bit of time and patience, but once you're in, it's easy to find that tax data you need to complete this year's return.

Read on to learn why you should create an IRS account online, what you can do with an account after you are registered and how the registration process works.

For more on filing taxes, learn about the best tax software for 2022, how to file your taxes for free and 13 tax credits and deductions you don't want to miss.

Why should I create an online IRS account?

The biggest reason to create an IRS account is to quickly look up your personal tax data. Once registered, you can access a wide array of your tax information, including:

  • Your adjusted gross income
  • Details of your latest tax return
  • Payment history for past five years
  • Amount of taxes currently owed
  • Economic impact payment amounts
  • Advance child tax credit payment amounts
  • Digital versions of some IRS notices
  • Tax professional authorizations

Along with viewing your personal tax information, with an IRS online account, you can make payments online, go paperless for certain IRS notices and approve authorization requests from your tax professional.

You can get instant copies of tax records like transcripts of past tax returns and wage and income statements. With an online account, you can also request an Identity Protection PIN to add an extra layer of security to your tax records.

Tax experts advise creating an IRS online account just in case you run into a tax issue or problem in the future. It's better to have an account already created than be forced to register online during the stress of a tax difficulty already in progress.

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What do I need to register for an online IRS account?

Creating an IRS account online takes about 15 to 30 minutes, if everything goes smoothly. Before you start the process, you'll need to collect a few documents and information. Here's what you will need:

  • A valid email address
  • Your mailing address
  • A US passport, passport card or state driver's license
  • Your Social Security number or tax identification number
  • A mobile phone registered to you

If you don't have a mobile phone or don't want to connect your number to your IRS account online, you can request an activation code by mail. The code will take about 10 days to arrive and will be valid for 30 days.

What steps do I take to set up my IRS online account?

The IRS offers a number of routes to access registration. The easiest way is to visit the Your Account Online page of the IRS website. To start the signup process, click the blue "Sign in to your online account" button.

irs-wait-here-to-access

A new IRS waiting page could affect how long signing up takes.

Screenshot by Peter Butler/CNET

The IRS recently added an interstitial page for online accounts. We had to wait about 2 minutes for a temporary loading page to redirect to the sign-up form. As we get closer to the April 18 tax deadline, that wait time could worsen. Again, we recommend creating an online account now, so you're not frustrated trying to register in April.

Once the waiting page redirects, you'll be taken to a page asking you to sign up for an ID.me account. ID.me is a third-party identification service that is now required for all new IRS accounts.

The ID.me registration should take about 15 minutes and requires photos or scans of your ID document -- click the ID.me Create an account button outlined in green to proceed.

For a full explainer on the ID.me registration process, please see our detailed ID.me walkthrough. Here are the basic steps: 

1. On the ID.me page where you create your account, enter your email address and pick a password. 

2. Next, confirm your email address. 

3. Now enable multifactor authentication with your phone. 

4. Choose ID verification: Self-Service with "video selfie" or Video Chat with ID.me agent.

5. Upload pictures of your ID. 

6. Take and upload a "video selfie" or wait an hour or two for a video chat interview.

7. Enter your Social Security number. 

8. Finally, authorize IRS access to ID.me verification.

Once you have authorized the IRS to access your ID.me information, your online IRS account should be up and running, and you should be able to access all the information and functionality provided by the IRS.

Some users of the IRS online account and ID.me have reported a common error message after registration: "A condition has been identified that's preventing your access to this service."

If you receive this message, the IRS recommends waiting and signing in later. If you continue to repeatedly receive the error message over time, you'll need to click the "view your alternatives" on the error page to resolve your issue by phone or mail.

What is ID.me?

ID.me is a third-party "identity verification" company that works with the IRS, the Social Security administration, Department of Veterans' Affairs and 27 state governments, primarily for unemployment benefits.

id-me

Along with checking identity for the IRS, ID.me also verifies military members and students for discounts.

ID.me

The IRS started using ID.me for identity verification as a pilot program in 2017 and has expanded it since to encompass all new accounts. IRS users who created online accounts before the implementation of ID.me can still use their accounts for now, but they will need to register with ID.me by the summer of 2022. The IRS has not yet given a specific date on which old accounts will need to switch over to ID.me.

ID.me and the IRS recently received much criticism for the mandatory video selfie -- a required registration step that involves facial recognition technology. Politicians and advocacy groups argued strongly against the practice, saying a private business should not be collecting biometric data on millions of Americans. They also noted that facial recognition technology has been demonstrated to have higher false positive rates for Black and Asian faces. 

On Feb. 7, the IRS announced a "transition away from use of third-party verification involving facial recognition" and said that it would develop a new identity verification process that does not require facial recognition.

The agency followed up two weeks later with news that taxpayers registering for IRS accounts would have the option of a "video chat interview" instead of the automated facial recognition step. The decision to use the video selfie or the video chat interview now comes early in the IRS account sign-up process (No. 4 in the listed steps above).

Learn more about ID.me and the possible risks and benefits of the identification service.

Can I create an online IRS account for my business?

The IRS has not yet enabled business accounts via its online portal. Its online account FAQ notes that the "IRS plans to develop an online account for business taxpayers in the future, enabling businesses to easily and securely manage their federal tax obligations."

Business owners can currently make payments or schedule estimated payments online using the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System.