Sunday, April 17, 2011

Tax Tips As Filing Deadline Arrives

StopwatchImage by wwarby via FlickrWhether you've already filed and are happily awaiting a refund or if you're just getting started with the annual chore, here are some last-minute tax tips.

GOOD NEWS: EXTRA TIME: Thanks to a local holiday in Washington, D.C., the normal April 15 tax filing deadline got moved by three days. This year only, state and federal taxes are due on Monday, April 18. Which means you get an extra weekend to get all that paperwork completed.

NEED HELP? Free tax preparation help is still available for low- and moderate-income individuals and the elderly.
  • Those with annual incomes below $49,000 can get free help at Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites, some of which are open through April 18.
  • Free IRS tax help is also available to seniors over 60 through the Tax Counseling for the Elderly program.
  • To find the nearest site for either program, call the IRS help line at 800-906-9887 or go to The help line is answered by a live IRS staffer, weekdays from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • FASTER REFUNDS: The fastest refund route is to electronically file your tax return and request that refunds be direct-deposited to your bank account. Taxpayers who do so can expect their refund in seven to 10 days; those mailing a paper return can expect a refund by mail in eight weeks.
  • To check the status of your IRS refund, call the refund hotline at 800-829-1954 or check online "Where's My Refund?" at
  • There's also a new smartphone application, IRS2Go, that lets you check your refund status and get IRS tax updates. The app is available for Android or Apple devices.
  • NEED AN EXTENSION? If you can't gather your paperwork in time, get a tax-filing extension. But note: You still must pay what you owe by Monday, April 18, or face interest fees and possible penalties.
  • For IRS taxes, an extension is not automatic but requires filing a Form 4868. The extension form is easily filed online using the "FreeFile" program.
  • Those working overseas or serving in the military outside the United States get an automatic two-month extension to file and pay their federal taxes.
  • HOW TO PAY: Never, ever send cash.
  • If you're paying by check, make it payable to: "U.S. Treasury." On the front, include the tax year, tax form number and the first Social Security number shown on your tax form.
  • Do not staple your check to the return.
  • If you're paying by credit or debit card, the IRS offers several options through private providers on its website. The IRS does not charge a fee, but the providers do. Generally, the minimum "convenience fee" is about $3.95.
  • CAN'T PAY? Taxpayers who owe but don't have the funds to pay should contact the IRS to request an "alternative payment" plan. It can be a one-time short-term extension or a longer installment plan. Generally, installment plans are offered if the tax debt is $25,000 or less and can be repaid within five years. Penalties and interest are charged.
  • DON'T MISS OUT: Low-income individuals and families are urged to file for the Earned Income Tax Credit. It's a federal refund, up to a maximum of $5,666, depending on family size.
  • The refund phases out at various income levels; for married couples filing jointly, with three or more kids, the maximum is roughly $48,360.
  • Even if you don't owe taxes, you need to file a return to claim an EITC refund

You still have time to get your taxes done. It won't be easy. Good Luck!

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