I have spent many an April 14 working all night, rushing to finish tax returns for clients who brought their information in at the last minute. Tax professionals aren’t the only ones who go through this push—I have seen taxpayers stressing out, too, trying to get their tax returns completed by the deadline.
If tax filers avoided these six mistakes, the process of filing a tax return wouldn’t be so stressful:
Mistake # 1: Rushing to file by April 15
You do not have to file your tax return by April 15—or, in this year’s case, April 18. Six-month extensions are now automatic. You no longer have to make up some lie about why you’re not ready. Simply take a deep breath, relax, and file Form 4868 instead. (Use Form 7004 for estates, trusts, and other forms due on April 18.)
Mistake # 2: Killing yourself to make sure everything is absolutely accurate
While you are expected to file a truthful, accurate tax return, you do not have to beat yourself to death if you cannot get absolutely accurate information. The IRS will not send you to jail if you make a mistake. Find all the accurate details you can about your income and expenses. If you have lost some information that you cannot replace, make an honest effort to reconstruct the information, using reasonable estimates. Too many people put off filing their tax returns because they’re perfectionists—and end up not filing at all.
Mistake # 3: Not using a tax professional when you need one
Unusual things might have happened this year that you don’t know how to express to the IRS. Don’t prepare your tax return yourself. Working with a professional is less expensive than you imagine. And aside from handling the new situation properly, your tax pro will most likely find ways to reduce your overall tax bill. You will also be less likely to be audited. Tax professionals make fewer glaring errors—resulting in fewer audits.
Mistake #4: Not stopping to think and review
Look at your taxes with fresh eyes. Make sure nothing is entered on the wrong line or is incomplete. Are all Social Security numbers correct? Are there credits or deductions you overlooked? How much tax money can you save with an IRA? If you are self-employed, explore other retirement-funding options.
Mistake #5: Not asking questions
Don’t be afraid to look foolish. There are lots of places where you can get answers to your tax questions. If the IRS website or the IRS help line doesn’t suffice, ask your question here—or at www.taxmama.com.
Mistake #6: Not triple-checking your bank account numbers for direct deposit
The IRS is responsible for depositing your refund into the account you tell them to use. If you transpose a couple of digits, or enter the wrong number, the IRS will deposit your money to the wrong account. It can be a nightmare getting your money back—if you get it back at all.
Preparing a tax return is not easy. But it doesn’t need to be agonizing, either. Once you get into it, it can actually be fun. So play detective and find the best tax breaks you can—and don’t pay any more tax than you are legally obligated to pay.
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