Nine Big Tax Tips for Last-Minute Filers

What you should know before you rush your return out the door.

April 9, 2009, 3:43 PM

April 10, 2009— -- With the government's April 15 tax deadline just days away, the rush is on for many Americans who have yet to file their tax returns.

If you're one of them, experts like Tom Ochsenschlager have some familiar advice: "Don't panic."

With help from Ochsenschlager, the vice president of taxation for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and Jackie Perlman, a tax analyst at The Tax Institute at H&R Block, the tax preparation company, has compiled a list of tips for those filing their taxes at the last minute:

Those who earned less than $56,000 in adjusted gross income in 2008 can also qualify for free software for step-by-step help.

If you're eligible for a tax refund, filing electronically will help you get that cash much more quickly than mailing in your returns. Within a matter of days, Perlman said, it can also alert you to certain errors on your tax return, like making a typo on your child's Social Security number.

The bad news is that, like tax returns, extension requests are also due April 15, and filing one doesn't mean you get more time to pay your taxes. It just means you get more time to finish your paperwork. Taxpayers filing extension requests must still estimate roughly how much they owe the IRS (if anything) and send a check for that amount by April 15.

Contrary to popular belief, Ochsenschlager said, filing an extension request -- whether it's once or for several different tax years -- won't make you any more likely to be audited.

Last year's tax returns will be less helpful if you've had a major life change, like purchasing a house or switching jobs. In that situation, it might be best to consult a tax professional.

New, Larger Tax Deductions

"A fair number of people," Ochsenschlager said, "will now find taking the standard deduction is better than taking itemized deduction."

As much as $5,000 of what you contribute (or $6,000 if you're age 50 or older) can be deducted from your taxes.

When you're ready to start preparing your forms, be sure you're doing it in a place where you won't be distracted too easily.

"As with anything else, it requires some concentration and some care and attention on your part to do it correctly," Perlman said. "Perhaps sitting in the middle of the family room with the TV blaring and the dog barking is not the best atmosphere to do your taxes."

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