When it comes to getting your taxes filed on time, it can often feel like the tax deadline is coming too fast. What should you do if you find yourself with a blank tax return form, a shoe box full of receipts and just a few weeks, or even days, left? We provide some tips to help you determine what you need to do to finish your taxes and get your tax return in on time.
Which Method Works for You?
There are a number of ways to prepare and file your taxes, including hiring an accountant, using a tax service or filing electronically. The closer you are to the filing date, the more trouble you're likely to have finding a professional to assist you. If you have a potentially complex return, (for instance, if you have multiple employers or want to claim deductions and have multiple investments) it may be worth the time and money to find some help.
There are other, possibly cheaper, online and computer-based tax filing options that can walk you through the tax preparation and filing process step by step. You could use the online free file option provided by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) (which has income limitations), the online e-file option or various other free filing services available online. You could also look into purchasing a tax software package to load onto your computer. Software packages such as these can be purchased online or from a local office supply store (see H&R Block vs. Turbo Tax vs. Jackson Hewitt) . These options may help you complete your return faster and more accurately than with the pencil and paper method.
Free Help From the IRS
If the tax deadline is quickly approaching and you're having difficulty finishing your return, the IRS provides professional help nationwide to those who qualify. Those who don't qualify may still be able to get answers to their questions on the IRS's website.
Putting the Paperwork Together
Once you've decided how you're going to file, start pulling together all your paperwork. In addition to completing the tax return form, you will need to include documentation that you should have received in the mail from your employer, bank, mortgage lender or investment bank. At a minimum, you will need to include a copy of your W-2 form(s), which account for your earned income. Typically, your employer will provide the form to you.
Other forms you may receive include:
- 1042-S (for people who have earned scholarship income)
- 1099-INT (for interest earned through money deposited in bank or investment accounts)
- 1099-DIV (for dividend income earned)
- 1099-B (for sale proceeds from bonds, stocks or mutual fund shares)
- 1099-G (for state unemployment income)
- 1099-R (for income from an IRA or other retirement plan)
- 1099-SSA (for Social Security benefits and pension income that you received)
- 1099-SA (for money withdrawn from health savings accounts)
- One of the three 1095 forms proving that you have health insurance coverage: Form 1095-A is for a premium tax credit for the Health Insurance Marketplace; 1095-B proves you have health coverage; 1095-C confirms “employer-covered health insurance offer and coverage.” Click here for more information.
Other Things to Consider
If you have moved, make sure that the companies and organizations from which you need to receive tax-related forms have your new address, to ensure that you receive your forms in time. Missing or neglecting one simple form can create enormous headaches down the road. Also, you'll need to calculate and submit proof of expenses or contributions for the entire year. This includes mortgage interest, child care, alimony and out-of-pocket medical and dental costs. Job supplies and job-hunting expenses can also be claimed.
If you don't have paper receipts, check your personal bank account statements and credit card billing statements to include all related out-of-pocket expenses. (For more on tax preparation, read Avoid an Audit.)
Check Your Deductions
Do a quick check on your deductions. If you're not going to take the standard deduction, make sure you don't lose money by overlooking possible itemized deductions for which you qualify. State income tax, home office expenses and student loan interest or college tuition fees are often overlooked or misrepresented at tax season.
Ensure that you meet all requirements before claiming these deductions, as small mistakes can create large red flags for the IRS. Also, all or a portion of your moving expenses may be deducted if the move was due to a new job that required you to move more than 50 miles. (For more on deductions, read The Most Overlooked Tax Deductions.)
One Last Look
Your refund can be delayed if you have incorrect calculations or provide inaccurate information. Double-check your work to make sure the numbers add up correctly. Ensure that your contact information, Social Security number, marital status and number of exemptions are accurate. (Find out what will happen if you make mistakes in Inaccurate Tax Return, Now What?)
Request a Six-Month Extension
If you can't complete your return by April 18 or 19, the 2016 tax deadlines depending on your state (see Estimated Tax Deadlines for 2016), you can apply for an extension by completing IRS Form 4868. You will still have to pay the amount you owe by April 15, but filing an extension can give you the extra time you need to finish the paperwork. Special extension qualifications are also granted in certain situations, like presidentially-declared natural disasters or military enrollment. These circumstances may not be common, but they will buy you some extra time. (Learn more about tax extensions in Get a 6-Month Tax Extension.)
If you owe the IRS money, make sure to include a check or credit card information on your return. If you are receiving a refund, consider requesting direct deposit in order to receive your money faster.
Post Office Hours
If you're still sending in tax returns by mail, check the hours of operation for your local post offices. Some post offices stay open late – even until midnight – on April 15, for last-minute tax-filers. Your return must be date-stamped by the post office by April 15, so call around to find out the operating hours at locations near you. True procrastination could require that you master on-line tax prep so the post office is no longer an issue. (For more tips on getting your taxes ready on time, be sure to read 10 Steps to Tax Preparation.)
Of course, the best tip for last-minute tax filers is to make a commitment to get started earlier next year!