Crunching numbers while stooped over a pile of receipts, forms and coffee gone cold is a scene that most people are familiar with this time of year. It is no wonder that we dread and procrastinate the work of having to reconcile income, expenses and taxes.
With the mid-April deadline fast approaching, it’s time to start the tax filing process if you have not already done so. This tax season, if you are planning to get assistance from a tax preparer, or even if you’re planning to do the leg work yourself, the Better Business Bureau and the Internal Revenue Service recommend following these top ten tax filing tips.
1. Start gathering your records: Round up any documents or forms you’ll need when filing your taxes: receipts, canceled checks and other documents that support income or deductions you’re claiming on your return.
2. Be on the lookout: W-2s and 1099s should have arrived by now, and you’ll need these to file your tax return.
3. Use Free File: Let Free File, IRS’s free filing software, do the hard work for you with brand-name tax software or online forms. Everyone can find an option to prepare their tax return and e-file it for free. If you made $58,000 or less, you qualify for free tax software that is offered through a private-public partnership with manufacturers. If you made more or are comfortable preparing your own tax return, Free File Fillable Forms, the electronic versions of IRS paper forms, are available online at www.irs.gov.
4. Try IRS e-file: After 21 years, IRS e-file has become the safest, easiest and most common way to file a tax return. According to the IRS, 70 percent of taxpayers used IRS e-file. Starting in 2011, many tax preparers will be required to use e-file and will explain your filing options to you. This is your chance to give it a try. The volume of IRS e-file documents is approaching 1 billion returns processed safely and securely. If you owe taxes, you have payment options to file immediately and pay by the tax deadline. Best of all, combine e-file with direct deposit and you can get your refund in as few as 10 days.
5. Consider other filing options: There are many different options for filing your tax return. You can prepare it yourself or go to a tax preparer. You may be eligible for free face-to-face help at an IRS office or a volunteer site. Give yourself time to weigh all the different options and find the one that best suits your needs.
6. Consider Direct Deposit: If you elect to have your refund directly deposited into your bank account, you’ll receive it faster than waiting for a paper check.
7. Visit the IRS Web site again and again: The official IRS Web site is a great place to find everything you’ll need to file your tax return: forms, publications, tips, answers to frequently asked questions and updates on tax law changes.
8. Remember the number: 17: Check out IRS Publication 17. It’s a comprehensive collection of information for taxpayers highlighting everything a taxpayer needs to know when filing a return.
9. Review! Review! Review! Don’t rush. Be sure to double-check all the Social Security Numbers and math calculations on your return as these are the most common errors made by taxpayers.
10. Don’t panic! If you run into a problem, remember the IRS is here to help. Try www.irs.gov or call toll-free at 800-829-1040.
Remember, when seeking the assistance of a tax preparer, always get referrals from friends and family on who they use and check the Better Business Bureau’s Business Review on tax preparation services.
Edward Johnson is president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving the greater metro Washington, D.C. region.