The IRS plans to start processing tax returns delayed by the December tax law changes on Feb. 14, according to a recent announcement.

The IRS said taxpayers affected by the delay need not wait until that time to begin preparing their tax returns because many software providers are ready now to accept returns. They will hold on to the returns and then electronically submit them after the IRS systems open on Feb. 14. Paid tax preparers also may be holding returns until then, and those who use them should check with their preparer.

Beginning Feb. 14, the IRS will begin processing both paper and e-filed returns claiming itemized deductions on Schedule A, the higher education tuition and fees deduction on Form 8917 and the educator expenses deduction. Last year, about nine million tax returns claimed one or more of these deductions on returns filed before Feb. 14.

Most other returns, including those claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit, education tax credits, child tax credit and other popular tax breaks, can be filed as normal, immediately, the announcement said.

The IRS said it needed the extra time to update its systems to accommodate the tax law changes without disrupting other operations tied to the filing season. The delay followed the Dec. 17 enactment of the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010, which extended several expiring provisions including the state and local sales tax deduction, higher education tuition and fees deduction and educator expenses deduction.