tax tips — January 02, 2012

The Bottom Line: What You Need to Know to Smooth Out Your Road to Taxville

by Bob Williams

Tax TipsYou've put away the Christmas decorations and swept up all that confetti left over from New Year's. NOW it's time to work on that "elephant in the living room" - your taxes.

But like any large task that faces us, this one can be whittled down to size by planning ahead and using the tools at our disposal. To that end, the IRS has issued its Top 10 Tax Tips, and they're hot off the press.

1.  Gather your records. Yes, you've heard that from us before. But it works. Start now to corral those documents you'll need to file your taxes: receipts, canceled checks and any other pieces of paper that help make your case for deductions.

2.  Watch your mailbox. Your W-2 and 1099 forms will be arriving soon and you certainly don't want to accidentally dump them in the trash with the supermarket ad fliers.

3.  Get your team together. Check out your possible sources for tax advice and calculators. Our site, for example, has some great tax calculators that can help you figure out your best withholding choices and much more. Another good source is the IRS website's Interactive Tax Assistant. You can get straight answers to questions on deductions, credits and general filing - all straight from the horse's mouth.

4.  Do the Free File. If you made less than $57,000 last year, you qualify to use the IRS' Free File feature, where you can file a straightforward tax return for free - nada, zippo, not-a-red-cent. Be sure to look for's site on the Free File page for a smooth and easy tax filing experience.

5.  E-file for peace of mind. The easiest, safest - and fastest - way to file your taxes is to send the return electronically. Nearly 80 percent of taxpayers used IRS e-file last year; that's over 100 million people. If you have a refund coming, remember that about 98 percent of electronic filers get their refunds by direct deposit in 14 days if their returns don't have any problems. Some refunds may be issued in as little as 10 days. But if you owe taxes, you can also take advantage of e-filing, with payment options to file immediately and pay by the tax deadline. That way, you don't worry if the IRS got your check.

6.  Don't hesitate to go for the pros. If you have a more complex tax picture, you might want to enlist the help of a tax professional. And even if your tax profile is straightforward, you can take advantage of the thousands of volunteer tax preparers around the country. Check with your local IRS office for their locations.

7.  Direct deposit means fast cash. If you elect to have your refund deposited electronically into your checking account, you'll get it much faster than those folks waiting on a check.

8.  Get the owner's manual for taxes. Download Publication 17, the IRS' Tax Guide; it's the starting point for all sorts of tax returns, simple to complex. You can download the PDF here.

9.  Browse the IRS website. Go to for publications, tips, answers to questions and detailed instructions for specialized forms. You can also find support information for IRS offices and lots of income tax support tools.

10. Take your time! Rushing through your tax return only increases the chances for a mistake. And a mistake will slow down the processing of your return. As a rule of thumb, double-check all the Social Security Numbers used in your return, as well as account numbers used for direct deposit. If you're filing a paper return, go over your math a second time, just to be sure. And if you do get hung up, whether filing a paper return or electronically, remember to seek help from the IRS. Go to first, and if you can't find what you're looking for, call the IRS Help Line at 1-800-829-1040.

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