Tips for last-minute tax filers

The very first time I filed taxes, I rode my bicycle to the post office, breezed by everyone waiting in line in their cars to drop the form off in the mailbox and pedaled away with a “gotcha” smile on my face.

As pleased as I was with meeting the deadline and skipping the motorists, I’ve not played it so close since. For countless reasons, there are those who have until today, April 15, to file. These days, far more people are filing electronically and the post office logjam isn’t as pronounced.

No matter how you ultimately file, there are some last-minute tips that will get you through the process.

Take a seat. Unless you have an inside track at a tax office, it’s probably too late to get someone else to do your taxes for you. Even if you do get in the door, expect to wait. Instead, you may as well go ahead and do it yourself. Handwritten tax returns are almost 20 percent more likely to be audited, so do yourself a favor and use tax software to guide you through the process. Also, when doing them by hand, mathematical errors might be corrected by the Internal Revenue Service once or twice, but too many and it is an indication of carelessness that might draw a red flag.

Before using online software, read these reviews of the various offerings, including Turbo Tax and H&R Block at Home Premium. If you make $57,000 or less, you can also go to irs.gov/freefile to complete your form. Finally, when you e-file and choose direct deposit, you can receive your return within eight to 15 days, according to Jackson Hewitt.

– Feeling rushed? If you simply are crunched for time and won’t make the deadline, at least complete Form 4868 to request an extension. That will give you until Oct. 15 to file. Keep in mind this is an extension to file, not an extension to pay. Try hard to pay 90 percent of your estimated tax liability. In Georgia, an estimated 300,000 tax payers will file extensions. The penalty for filing late is no less than 5 percent per month of the tax due, up to 25 percent. The late-filing penalty is 10 times greater than the late-payment penalty.

If you are having trouble paying, click here to learn more about your options, including installment agreements.

– Mind your deductions and credits.There’s no need to give away money. There are numerous tax credits available this year. Claim all that pertain to you. Some of the most overlooked are sited here, including credit for energy upgrades, up to $2,500 education expense through the American Opportunity Tax Credit, unemployment compensation and the home-buyer credit. To cut your tax bill, you might also contribute to a traditional IRA if you are eligible for a tax-deductible contribution. You can fund up to $5,000 — $6,000 if were 50 or older by Dec. 31.

– Be prepared with proper documents. You’ll find a handy checklist of documents here that you’ll most likely need to have in front of you or bring to a preparer when doing your taxes.

For more tax-related stories, click here.

Follow me on Twitter @atlbargains or on Facebook at AJC Atlanta Bargain Hunter

4 comments Add your comment

Sonny Lied!

April 15th, 2010
8:31 am

I filed my taxes back in January and I’ve still yet to see Georgia give me my refund. My federal refund came within a week of filing. It’s been 4 months and still, not a dime has been given back by the “great” state of Georgia.

mystery poster

April 15th, 2010
12:01 pm

I filed the state in February and my refund came. I was hoping it would come in time for me to use the state refund to pay what I owe the federal, and luckily it did.

Brad

April 15th, 2010
12:47 pm

If you file a paper return, your refund will take forever, as it has to be processed by a human. If you e-file, it’s just a matter of days.

GeoffDawg

April 16th, 2010
9:02 am

Hmm, got my refund from the state in a matter of a couple of weeks.