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Ten Ways to Avoid Problems at Tax Time

Looking for ways to avoid the last-minute rush for doing your taxes? The IRS offers these tips.

  1. Don't Procrastinate.Resist the temptation to put off your taxes until the last minute. Your haste to meet the filing deadline may cause you to overlook potential sources of tax savings and will likely increase your risk of making an error.
  2. Organize Your Tax Records.Tax preparation time can be significantly reduced if you develop a system for organizing your records and receipts. Start with the income, deduction or tax credit items that were on last year's return.
  3. Visit the IRS Online.Millions of taxpayers visited the IRS Web site last year, downloading nearly 600 million forms, publications and a variety of topic-oriented tax information. Anyone with Internet access can find tax law information and answers to frequently asked tax questions.
  4. Take Advantage of Free Assistance.The IRS offers recorded messages on about 150 tax topics through its toll-free TeleTax service at 1-800-829-4477. It also offers federal tax forms and publications at 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676). Some libraries, post offices, and banks carry the most widely requested forms and instructions. Libraries may also have reference sets of IRS publications. The IRS also staffs a tax Help Line for Individuals at 1-800-829-1040. Help for small businesses, corporations, partnerships and trusts which need information or assistance preparing business returns is available at 1-800-829-4933. Both lines are staffed on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. your local time (Alaska & Hawaii follow Pacific Time). Hearing-impaired individuals with access to TTY/TDD equipment may call 1-800-829-4059 to ask questions or to order forms and publications.
  5. Use IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers and Volunteer Programs.Free tax help is available at IRS offices nationwide. Also, check your newspaper or local IRS office to find locations for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance or Tax Counseling for the Elderly sites. To obtain the location, dates, and hours of the VITA or TCE volunteer site closest to you, call the IRS toll-free Tax Help Line for Individuals at 1-800-829-1040 or on the IRS website.
  6. Have your accountant Double-Check Your Math and Data Entries.Review your return for possible math errors and make sure you have provided the names and correct (and legibly written) Social Security or other identification numbers for yourself, your spouse and your dependents.
  7. Have Your Refund Deposited Directly to Your Bank Account.Another way to speed up your refund and reduce the chance of theft is to have the amount deposited directly to your bank account. Check the tax instructions for details on entering the routing and account numbers on your tax return. Make sure the numbers you enter are correct. Wrong numbers can cause your refund to be misdirected or delayed.
  8. Don't Panic if You Can't Pay.If you can't immediately pay the taxes you owe, consider some stress-reducing alternatives. You can apply for an IRS installment agreement, suggesting your own monthly payment amount and due date, and getting a reduced late payment penalty rate. You also have various options for charging your balance on a credit card, either as part of an electronic return or directly through a processing agent, either by phone or online. Electronic filers with a balance due can file early and authorize the government's financial agent to take the money directly from their checking or savings account on the April 15 due date, with no fee. Note that if you file your tax return or a request for a filing extension on time, even if you can't pay, you avoid potential late filing penalties.
  9. Have Your Accountant Request an Extension of Time to File — But Pay on Time.If the clock runs out, you can get an automatic six-month extension of time to file, to October 15. An extension of time to file does not give you an extension of time to pay, however. You can e-file a Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File, that is included in most tax preparation software, or send a paper Form 4868 to the IRS to request the extension. You will need the adjusted gross income and total tax amounts from last year's return if you request the extension by electronic filing. You may also get an extension by charging your expected balance on a credit card at Official Payments Corporation or Link2Gov Corporation. There is no IRS fee for credit card payments, but the processors charge a convenience fee.
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