DOWN TO THE WIRE
Last-minute filing advice from the tax experts
Copley News Service
"But in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."
- Benjamin Franklin, 1789
You knew this day would come. And yet, your receipts lie in disarray, your W-2 has gone missing, and your Form 1040 has nary a box checked. You've procrastinated, and now you're filing at the last minute.
Don't panic. Don't put it off any longer. Most of all, don't be like the estimated 13.6 million Americans who, according to the IRS National Research Program, failed to file returns in 2001. They just didn't get around to it. And that's just asking for trouble.
Tax professionals offer plenty of advice for getting organized quickly and avoiding the most common mistakes. And if you find you truly need more time, be sure to file an extension by April 15.
An extension will buy you six additional months to get your act together, but it does not free you from paying taxes that you owe. To apply for an automatic extension, fill out Form 4868, properly estimate your tax liability and include payment. If you don't pay the amount due, you will owe interest and may be charged penalties.
Whether you're having your taxes prepared professionally or tackling the job yourself, you're going to need a lot of information in hand. The "What to Bring" checklist from the Jackson Hewitt tax service Web site will help you get the necessary paperwork in order.
Depending on your filing status, exemptions, income and other personal information, to complete the Form 1040 you'll need to get started with:
- Social Security numbers: Yours, your spouse's and your dependents.
- Wage statements: All W-2s, for you and your spouse if filing jointly.
- 1099 forms: These cover a variety of income, everything from pension and retirement to sales of stocks and bonds.
- Receipts for charitable contributions.
But that's just the beginning. If you're divorced, you need to show any alimony paid or received. If you have children, you'll need child care expenses and provider information. If you own or made renovations to a home or rental property, you'll need Forms 1098 showing mortgage interest and real estate taxes paid, receipts for your home-improvement supplies and energy-efficient additions such as windows and water heaters, and proof of income and expenses related to your rental units.
Gamblers must report their wins with Form W-2G, and can claim losses. Students must report total tuition and fees with Form 1098-T, and interest paid on student loans with Form 1098-E.
For more information, visit www.jacksonhewitt.com.
The National Association of Tax Professionals has some quick tips for last-minute filers to help avoid errors.
- Enter names and Social Security numbers in all the right places. Be sure names and numbers match what the Social Security Administration has on file. The NATP says this is one of the top errors on tax returns.
- Check your numbers. Watch for transposed numbers and be sure information is entered on the correct lines.
- Attach all the required forms and schedules.
- Include your check, but do not attach it to the form. Make it payable to the United States Treasury, and note on it the tax year it is for, the form you are filing, taxpayer Social Security numbers, and a daytime phone number. And don't forget to sign it!
- Finally, sign your return in all the correct places. If filing a joint return, your spouse is also required to sign.
You can find all the forms you need at the IRS Web site, www.irs.gov, local libraries and post offices.
? Copley News Service
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