GREENSBORO, NC -- The IRS is delaying tax refunds for more than 40 million low-income families this year as the agency steps up efforts to fight identity theft and fraud.

The delays will affect families claiming the earned income tax credit and the additional child tax credit. These tax breaks are geared to benefit the working poor, and many families claim both.

"For most of these people it's the biggest check they are going to get all year," IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We are sensitive to that."

The tax filing season starts Jan. 23. But a new law requires the IRS to delay tax refunds for people claiming these credits until Feb. 15. Processing times will delay most of the refunds until the end of February, Koskinen said.

The IRS is putting in extra tax fraud protections and that is going to slow the refund process down an extra 3 weeks.

If you choose to wait for the money, that's fine. You don't have to do anything. If you want to have access to the money sooner, you can do that by changing your withholding now. The IRS is recommending taxpayers look at their withholding.

Ryan Dodson of Liberty Tax Service says, "So if you change your withholding in you have less withheld out of your paycheck that means that what you actually receive in your paycheck is going to be higher. So you get a little bit more now in every single paycheck and less on your refund when you file the return in February.

Before you do anything, check with the company or person who did your taxes or the IRS help line. You change your withholding through your employer.

You can check out the IRS Withholding Calculator.