(NEW YORK) — With less than one week to go, the Internal Revenue Service’s April 17 tax deadline is quickly approaching. But don’t fear — here are 10 last-minute tips to help you file accurately and get the maximum refund:
1. You can file for a six-month extension.
Instead of ignoring the deadline, it’s best to apply for an extension of time to file. Keep in mind this is not an extension of time to pay. “Don’t be afraid of an extension, filing for an extension is not necessarily an audit trigger,” Philadelphia tax attorney Kelly Phillips Erb said. “It’s better to file a complete, correct return than a messy, rushed return on time.”
2. Pay something if not the full amount.
The IRS advises you to file your return on time and pay as much as you can then, allowing you to cut down on interest charges. While you have to make “a payment” to the IRS on or by April 17, that payment can be as little as $1. Pay that minimum, and you won’t have broken any rule. However, you will have to pay interest to the IRS on what you owe, plus any penalties.
3. Gather relevant documents.
If you haven’t already, it’s time to dust off the W-2 forms that your employer may have mailed you earlier this year and your year-end charitable statements from December for charitable deductions. Phillips suggests you have your tax return from 2010, relevant forms from your student loan lender, such as a Form 1098-E, or investment company for your interest earned, such as a form 1099-INT.
Last year, 78 percent of taxpayers filed electronically, which the IRS calls the fastest and safest way to file your taxes, and that number is expected to increase this year. Not only do you get your refund faster, but you can have different payment options including paper check and credit card.
5. Find the closest post office.
In case you are among the 22 percent who do not e-file, it may be a good idea to find the location of the nearest post office and its business hours on April 17. If you’re not using the U.S. Postal Service to file but instead are using a private delivery service, such as UPS and FedEx, make sure the IRS approves the service.
6. Don’t gloss over the simple things.
Don’t go on auto-pilot when you write your Social Security number and dependent’s name. Incorrect SSNs and misspelled dependent’s last names are among eight common tax-time avoidable errors, the IRS said. People also make mistakes for mathematical computations and choosing one of the five filing statuses, which include “single,” “married filing jointly” and “married filing separately.” Don’t forget to sign and date your return, which is also a common error.
7. Avoid the “dirty dozen.”
The IRS has a list of 12 tax scams to avoid, dubbed the “Dirty Dozen Tax Scams.” Make sure you’re not giving the appearance of attempting any. After the top scam of identity theft, the others include the abuse of charitable deductions, fraudulent tax preparers, falsely inflating income and expenses, and creating a fake or misleading Form 1099 Original Issue Discount (OID), which is used to report taxable interest income from bonds, notes or other long-term debt instruments.
8. Don’t assume the tax forms are exactly the same as the previous year.
Phillips said one of the most common questions she has received this year relates to filers who are looking for a “Schedule M” form, which was used to determine the Making Work Pay Credit. But the Making Work Pay Credit expired for the 2011 tax year. The credit was replaced by the payroll tax “holiday” this year. Among the other tax law changes the IRS points out is some people may have to file capital gains and losses on new Form 8949 and report the totals on Schedule D. If you have foreign financial assets, you may have to file new Form 8938. On page one of the 2011 IRS Tax Guide for individuals is a list of other changes, including a new standard mileage rate for business use of your car.
9. It’s not too late to contribute to your retirement account for a possible tax-deduction.
If you haven’t contributed to your retirement account, you have until April 17 to do so, said Kevin Starkey, managing partner, Capstone Investment Financial Group. Those include a traditional or Roth individual retirement arrangement, or IRA. If you are single and not an active participant, your maximum deductible contribution is $5,000 or $6,000 if you will be age 50 or older by year-end.
10. Avoid “frivolous arguments.”
The IRS imposes penalties on filers making what it calls “frivolous arguments,” including maintaining that the federal income tax system is “voluntary.” Laws allow the U.S. Tax Court, a federal trial court, to impose a penalty of up to $25,000 when it appears that: a taxpayer instituted or maintained a proceeding primarily for delay, a taxpayer’s position in such proceeding is frivolous or groundless, or a taxpayer unreasonably failed to pursue administrative remedies.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Paul R. La Monica, CNN
Patrick Ary, WAAY
Jackie Wattles, CNN
Parija Kavilanz, CNN