Yes, it is allowed to pay Zakāh early, especially when there is a good reason to do so such as during a disaster, famine, or disease epidemic when people are in immediate need of help.
The Importance of Zakāh
Zakāh has been mentioned in the Qur’an eighty-two times and has been mentioned alongside the performance of prayer in thirty-two instances, with wording such as “establish prayer and pay Zakāh…” These frequent reminders indicate how important of an obligation Zakāh is, so much so that it is even on par with the regular observance of prayer.
Allah has warned people that those who refuse to give in charity will be punished on the Day of Judgment: “…those who pile up gold and silver and do not spend it in the way of Allah should be given the news of a painful punishment [awaiting them]. A day [will come] when it will be heated in the fire of Hell and their foreheads will be burnt…”
When is Zakāh Due and Can it be Paid Early
Zakāh is due when a person has owned the minimum amount [niṣāb] for an entire lunar year. As of Mar 25, 2020 the spot price per ounce on gold was $1,637.25, which means that the minimum amount for Zakāh this year is $4,911.75. If you had more than the minimum amount of money in cash, liquid investments, and sellable business goods one [lunar] year ago, and still have more than the new minimum amount then you must pay 2.5% of your entire wealth.
Many Muslims have recalculated their Zakāh cycle so that it falls in Ramaḍān, or another date. It is sinful to pay Zakāh late, the same way it is unlawful to not pray on time. However, it is allowed to pay Zakāh early, especially when there is a good reason to do so. When there are people in immediate need due to a disaster, famine, or disease epidemic, it is not only allowed but recommended to pay your Zakāh early so the people who are in need can get help.
Imām Al-Mawṣilī [d. 683 AH] explained why it is permissible to prepay Zakāh for a year or even more than that as follows: The potential to discharge Zakāh begins when a person first possesses the minimum amount [niṣāb], even though it is not technically due until a year later. This is similar to the time of prayer, where the potential to pray begins as soon as the time enters, but actually becomes a requirement right before the time is over. Therefore, as long as a person met the minimum amount requirement, they may pay Zakāh before the due date. [See ʿAbdullāh Al-Mawṣilī, Kitāb Al-Ikhtiyār li Taʿlīl Al-Mukhtār, p. 135, Darul Ma`rifah, 2015]
Lastly, it is important to remember that Zakāh is only the minimum amount that a Muslim must give. Islam teaches Muslims to be generous and give much more charity [ṣadaqah] than just the minimum amount every year.
To learn more about Zakāh, consider enrolling in: Islamic Law I: Essentials of Islamic Practice
To help kids appreciate the importance and purpose of Zakāh, here is a nice song from Noorart: Zakāh
[Shaykh] Mustafa Umar
Anaheim, CA – Mar 25, 2020
 Qur’an 9:34-35
 This is the opinion of the majority of Muslim jurists such as Abū Ḥanīfah, Ash-Shāfiʿī, and Ibn Ḥanbal. See Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmūʿ Al-Fatāwā, 25:85-86.