The moment of truth is nearly upon those of us who waited to file our federal income taxes.
Yes, this year the tax deadline is April 18 instead of the 15th — offering serious procrastinators a little reprieve. But the longer you wait, the more you increase the chance of making a mistake under pressure.
Still, here are a few tips for meeting the deadline confidently and accurately.
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Gather your income and deduction information before you sit down. Have Social Security numbers for yourself, your spouse if filing jointly, and your children if claiming dependents. Look at last year’s return and make sure you have the documents to support any of the same claims you plan to make this year.
A few examples:
Income: You’ll need W-2s and 1099s for income, including Form 1099-INT for interest earned on a bank account. (Or, if you were lucky, a W-2G for winning the lottery or a big poker tournament.) Missing a W-2? The IRS can help you get missing documents online or by calling 800-829-1040.
Deductions and credits: If you’re itemizing, you’ll want Form 1098, Mortgage Interest Statement, for deducting interest paid on a loan for your own home. Also, collect receipts for purchases and payments for business, health care, education, charitable donations, child care, retirement savings contributions and other items.
If you bought health insurance through one of the state or federal insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act (also called Obamacare), you should have a Form 1095-A to calculate the amount of your premium tax credit so you can reconcile it with any advance payments applied to your premiums on Form 8962.
Pick a preparer
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Decide who’s going to file your taxes, you or a professional tax preparer.
If you made $54,000 or less last year, you may qualify for free in-person preparation of basic tax forms through the volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. If not, the IRS Free File website offers brand-name software for those whose income is less than $64,000. Each company sets eligibility criteria, generally based on income, age, state residency, eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit and military status. For those with income of more than $64,000, the IRS offers free online filing. The IRS also provides help with finding tax preparers.
If you need help finding a preparer or want to know the status of your refund, you can check through the IRS website. Or, there’s an app for that: IRS2Go.
If you need in-person help, H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, accountants and other tax preparation offices are available. In many cases, they are open late as the filing deadline looms.
For more ideas, check out: “How to Find the Right Tax Pro at the Right Price.”
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Even though you only have a few days left to file, don’t rush! Mistakes can be costly and delay any refund you might be due, the IRS warns. Here are the most common errors for last-minute filers, as compiled from the IRS and tax preparation services and professionals:
- Basic errors: Entering wrong Social Security numbers for yourself, spouse or dependent children; misstating an address or a filing status; checking the wrong exemption boxes; and listing the incorrect bank routing numbers for direct deposit of refunds. On paper returns, making math errors, misreading tax tables, leaving off signatures and dates on forms, failing to attach all needed forms to the 1040, and sending forms to the wrong IRS processing centers.
- Income: Forgetting dividends, state tax refunds, unemployment payments, and earnings from side jobs or freelance work. If the IRS discovers you left any of these out, you may owe penalties if the income increases the tax you owe.
- Deductions and credits: For itemizers, forgetting state and local income taxes paid, real estate and personal property taxes paid, and miscellaneous business expenses. For all, even if you don’t itemize, ignoring “above the line” deductions for educator expenses, health savings accounts, tuition and fees. Also underclaimed, for those qualifying, is the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Check out: “16 Often-Overlooked Deductions and Credits.”
Lower your bill
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Three things you might be able to do by April 18 should lower your tax bill:
- Contribute to your self-employed 401(k)
- Contribute to your IRA
- Contribute to your health savings account (HSA)
You must be younger than 70½, to contribute, though. You can file your return claiming a traditional IRA contribution before the contribution is actually made, the IRS says. The contribution must be made by the due date of your return, not including extensions.
Don’t sweat the deadline
Despite what we’re used to hearing, the April 18 (usually April 15) deadline applies only if you owe. If you’re getting money back, the IRS doesn’t mind when you file, but you may not want to delay your own refund.
If you can’t get your taxes done by April 18 (this year), you can file for an automatic extension with Form 4868, which usually gives you an extra six months — for filing, not paying. But file something, even if you can’t pay, otherwise you could face a late-filing penalty of 5 percent per month, up to 25 percent of your total tax bill. That’s 10 times greater than the 0.5 percent per month penalty for paying late but filing or seeking an extension time.
What’s your approach to filing taxes? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.
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