Filing Your Taxes on Time: Help for the Harried, the Disorganized, the Cash-Strapped
By: Amanda Kennedy
Magazine Edition: February 2004
Tick, tick, tick. There’s no other time of year that the clock ticks so loudly as when it’s racing toward April 15. The Internal Revenue Service offers the following advice for preparing and filing returns:
- Get organized. Reduce the amount of time it takes you to actually do your taxes by having a system in place for organizing your records and receipts. The IRS suggests starting with the income, deduction or tax credit items from last year’s return.
- Don’t dillydally. Procrastinating will cause you to rush, and that can result in missed tax savings and errors.
- Go online. Tax forms, instructions and publications can be downloaded from the IRS Web site, www.irs.gov. The site also has tax law information and answers to frequently asked tax questions.
- Give them a call. Take advantage of free tax assistance with recorded messages on about 150 topics through the IRS’s TeleTax service at 800-829-4477 and on federal tax forms and publications at 800-TAX-FORM (829-3676). The IRS’s Tax Help Line for Individuals is 800-829-1040. Call for hours and days of operation. Help for small businesses, corporations, partnerships and trusts preparing business returns is available at the Business and Specialty Tax Line at 800-829-4933. Hearing-impaired individuals with access to TTY/TDD equipment may call 800-829-4059 to ask questions or to order forms and publications. Many post offices and libraries carry the most widely requested forms and instructions.
- Pay them a visit. Tax help is available at more than 400 IRS offices nationwide. To obtain the location, dates and hours of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly programs, call the IRS Tax Help Line for Individuals at 800-829-1040, or check your local newspaper. The IRS Web site contains information on local IRS offices.
- Use electronic refund options. Get your expected refund quicker by having it deposited directly into your bank account. The tax instruction booklet explains how to enter your financial institution’s routing numbers and your account number on the tax return. Check the status of a refund with an Internet-based service option called “Where’s My Refund?”
- File electronically. For those who are due a refund, the wait time for e-filers is half that of paper filers.
- Do the math. Review your return for math errors and make sure the names and Social Security or other identification numbers for you and your spouse and dependents are correct and legible.
- Don’t panic. Can’t pay what you owe? Apply for an IRS installment agreement, suggesting your own monthly payment amount and due dates, and getting a reduced late-payment penalty rate. There’s also a credit card option. For more information, call the Official Payments Corp. at 800-2PAY-TAX (272-9829), or go online at www.officialpayments.com. The Link2Gov Corp. may be reached at 888-PAY-1040 (729-1040) or at www.pay1040.com. Electronic filers with a balance due can file early and authorize the government’s financial agent to take the money directly from their checking or savings account on the due date.
- Ask for more time. Filing an extension will buy you four more months to file—to Aug. 15. Taxpayers may call 888-796-1074, e-file a Form 4868 that is included in most tax preparation software or send a paper Form 4868 to the IRS. If you request an extension by computer or phone you will need to provide your adjusted gross income from your tax return. Taxpayers who charge their expected balance on a credit card don’t have to file the form. Contact Official Payments Corp. or Link2Gov Corp. The extension itself does not give a taxpayer more time to pay any taxes due. The taxpayer will owe interest on any amount not paid by April 15, plus a late payment penalty if at least 90 percent of the total tax due has not been paid by April 15.