ST. LOUIS — Tax season is almost here, but issues related to the pandemic could delay your refund. The IRS announced Monday it will begin accepting and processing 2021 tax year returns on Jan. 24.

“The speed at which the IRS is filing taxes is going to be determined by not only workload volume, but COVID has been playing a nasty, nasty game. This is going to be a very busy season especially now that the window has just changed,” said Tom Elder, vice president of financial planning for Compass Retirement Solutions.

The start of the tax filing season comes nearly three weeks earlier than last year. Whether you file today, tomorrow, or Jan.24, Elder said the latest surge could affect the agency’s ability to process taxes if employees have COVID-19.

“The big issue is, is that going to be affecting the IRS? Because those are people too,” Elder said.

Kathy Ayres is a Certified Public Account who has been in the finance industry for three decades. Ayres said like many industries, they’re still navigating the pandemic too.

“We’re still working through the pandemic and all of the issues it created,” Ayres said.

She said the announcement from the IRS gives the agency time to work.

“The IRS has been understaffed for a very long time anyway, and to get the word out there ya know that we’re still processing paper returns from last year they’re still trying to catch up be patient with them be patient with us,” she said.

Ayres said the best thing tax filers can do is start filing now.

“You’ll be first in line as soon as the e-file opens. Those will be hitting the IRS computers first. Get that refund quicker,” she said. “The longer you delay into February and March, the slower the processing time is just because of volume that the IRS has.”