Help Before You File
by Bob Williams
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As anyone who’s used our website before knows, it won’t let you make many of the common errors we used to find back in the old paper-filing days. We do all the calculations for you, so being fumble-fingered on the calculator isn’t the problem it used to be.
But some missteps have nothing to do with numbers. Rather, they rest with some of the choices we're asked to make over the course of preparing our taxes. So, to help you avoid those, we have some helpful hints to help you sail through filling out that tax return.
This sounds pretty elementary, but it’s very easy to make a mistake when choosing a filing status. The tax difference between Married Filing Jointly (MFJ) and Married Filing Separately (MFS), for example, could be pretty large, depending on your situation. If your filing status is clear, such as Single, great! If you are unclear about which filing status is right for you, click the blue “Help Me Decide” link on the Name & Address screen for an explanation of the various filing statuses.
Name and Number, Please
Believe it or not, we see a lot of returns rejected by the IRS because either the Social Security Number or the name of a taxpayer or dependent doesn’t agree with what the IRS has in their database. It’s always best to use the spellings of names as they appear on the Social Security card. And take your time when typing in that SSN. It’s very easy to transpose numerals or accidently hit the wrong key.
Sometimes the Secondary Forms are Essential
A lot of people have second jobs these days, and many of them act as contractors. The extra earnings could be reflected on a Form 1099-MISC instead of a W-2.
For savings accounts and investments, you could have a 1099-INT or 1099-DIV to enter.
In many cases, thanks to your answers to some basic questions, our site can sense that other forms are needed and will alert you to fill out this-or-that form to properly file your return. But you know your situation best, so be aware of what forms you may have to include in your return.
In most cases, no matter what the form number, you will enter the figures shown on your paper form into the electronic form, using the corresponding numbered box or blank. For example, that $125 shown in Box 2 of the paper form should be entered on Box 2 of the electronic form. And be sure to enter only full-dollar amounts.
Give – And You May Receive
Giving to charitable organizations is a good idea for a number of reasons. First, it’s the right thing to do; second, it’s always good to help others; and third, it can get you a nice little deduction. Make sure the group or organization you contribute to is an approved 501c(3) organization. That means it’s been approved by the IRS as a non-profit organization and that donations can be tax deductible. Your organization of choice should be registered on the IRS website if they are indeed a tax-exempt organization.
If you’re donating goods rather than cash, you’ll want to make sure your donation meets the IRS rules for acceptable donations of property. You can check out our Tax Guide for all the latest rules and regulations.
Take It to the Bank
The IRS can direct deposit your refund into more than one bank account. But if that’s the option you choose, you’ll need the bank routing number and your personal account number for every account you intend to use. Enter those numbers VERY carefully.
Many online taxpayers opt to use a bank product to pay their fees out of their IRS refunds. If you do, remember that your refund may make an extra “hop” on its way to your bank account. It will stop in the bank product’s holding account first, then come to you. So you’ll probably see a strange routing and account number in your paperwork before the refund comes through. That’s just the account of the particular bank you happen to use.
When The Clock is Ticking
Finally, we take the cover off that elephant in the room. The deadline for filing your taxes is April 15. Extensions push back the time you have to file a return, but not the amount of time to pay. In that case, if you owe tax due, you’ll still have to come up with the money to pay the IRS by April 15.
For those who just don’t have the money now to pay tax owed, there’s still a way out. The IRS has an installment plan to string out your payments. You can check out the IRS’ plan here, and download the actual Form 433-D, Installment Agreement, here.
The best plan of action is to file your taxes as early as you can. If you’ve got your documents, we’ve got the site. You could be done in a matter of minutes. It's that fast!
Then, all you have to do is sit back, relax, and wait for that refund. Better reserve your spot on that couch now.
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