Tax Season: One of Life's Few Certainties
Tax season comes around every year, which means that, every April, taxpayers spend hour after hour combing through last year's financial records, looking for every last tax break available before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) deadline for filing arrives at 11:59 p.m. on the due date, which is usually April 15. (In 2011, the tax deadline falls on April 18 because of Emancipation Day, a holiday recognized in the District of Columbia, where IRS headquarters are located.)
If you haven't filed yet, here are a few tips to help you through the joys of tax-return season:
- File online. The IRS's Free File website allows you to file your income tax return electronically. Better yet, if your adjusted gross income is below a certain level, the site offers free assistance in filling out and filing your federal income tax returns. (Check the website for this year's cut-off line.) Filing your tax return online results in faster refunds — you can get your refund in as few as 10 days if you use the Direct Deposit delivery method.
- Remember your charitable acts. If you donated to a charitable organization between January 1 and December 31 of the tax year in question, you can claim a deduction on your tax return. Click here to search the IRS database of registered charitable organizations. (Certain organizations, such as churches and governments, may not be included in the database, but the donation may still qualify as a tax deduction even if the organization isn't listed. However, donations to foreign organizations usually aren't deductible.)
- Itemize your deductions. In any given tax year, you may be eligible to itemize certain deductible expenses to reduce (or at least not increase) your federal tax bill. For more information about itemized deductions, please click here.
- Check your spelling (and everything else). The most common errors the IRS finds on tax returns include the obvious — mistakes with Social Security numbers, misspellings of names, filing-status errors — and the not-so-obvious: Forgetting to sign and date the return. Set aside as much time as you need to fill out your return accurately and correctly, and be sure to sign and date it before you send it off.
- Meet the deadline. If you owe money to the IRS but can't pay your entire tax bill by the deadline date, be sure to file your return on time and include whatever payment you can afford. That'll reduce the penalties, including accrued interest, on the amount you can't pay. Contact the IRS at 1-800-TAX-1040 (1-800-829-1040) to discuss the matter. You may be able to negotiate a short extension or set up a payment schedule.
For additional tax tips, visit the IRS directly.
To estimate the refund you can expect — or the amount you'll owe — this year before you dive into your financial records, check out our Tax Refund Calculator:
The Tax Refund Calculator can help you estimate of the size of this year's income tax refund — or the amount you'll need to pay to the IRS. You can utilize the calculator to "guesstimate" that figure with ballpark numbers or get a more accurate estimate by entering exact numbers.
- W-2 form (your employer-supplied year-end tax statement)
- W-9 form (to confirm how many exemptions you took)
- Year-end statements for any and all retirement plans you have — 401(k), IRA, and others — including how much you contributed and/or took out, as well as any penalties you incurred
- Year-end investment statements detailing your tax year's capital gains/losses
- Year-end statements for any tax-year unemployment compensation you received
- A year-end statement for your Health Savings Account (HSA)
- Your total tax year's medical expenses
- Your total tax year's child-care expenses
- Your total alimony payments in the tax year
- Total taxes you paid on real estate and other personal property taxes in the tax year
- The amount of mortgage interest you paid, including any points
- Tax-deductible charitable donations
- Tuition expenditures
Please note that the FreeScore Tax Refund Calculator can only offer you an estimate of your tax refund or payment based on the data you provide. This estimate is only an approximation — it is neither a precise figure nor a guarantee. To determine the exact amount you'll receive or owe, please fill out your IRS income tax form and/or consult a tax professional.
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