Tax time tips for the unprepared
Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 14, 2012
By ROBIN SHANNON
LAPLACE – With April 15 falling on a Sunday this year, the Internal Revenue Service has generously given income tax filers an additional two days to complete and file taxes, but that extension likely does little to cure a national of perpetual procrastination when it comes to organizing tax documents.
Statistics from the IRS show that tens of millions of Americans routinely wait until just before the deadline to complete returns. More than 30 percent of taxpayers filed the week before Tax Day or later via extensions in 2011, and Internal Revenue Service statistics show the pace is similar this year.
Some preparers say that procrastination can come at a steep price.
“Waiting to the last minute does not decease the amount of work you have to do to prepare your taxes and many people still just don’t understand that,” said Sue Sheir, a tax professional who has been offering tax prep help at the LaPlace Branch Library. “There is no upside to waiting until the end and, honestly, the potential for error becomes much greater.”
Shier recommends that anyone who hasn’t begun should not wait any longer to get started. She also offered a series of tips for end-of-season tax filers to keep in mind.
• Do not rush: As the deadline nears, filers concentrate less on possible deductions to income tax, which can cause them to miss out on money. There is also the possibility of simple math errors or a common mistake of transposing Social Security numbers and birthdates, which could slow down delivery of refunds.
• Get help: If you’re comfortable going it alone and didn’t have any significant changes from the previous year, it should be easy to file online. You can do it right up until midnight Tuesday. Do-it-yourself tax preparation software should walk you through trouble spots, and online help is plentiful. If you’ve had a life change such as a move, new job, baby or withdrawn money from a retirement account, that might be the trigger to see a professional tax preparer. Some tax preparer sites offer online help, but it might be best to seek face-to-face advice.
• Easy extensions: Those who think they may miss the deadline should ask the IRS for more time to file. You can do so by submitting form 4868. Six-month extensions are granted automatically; you’ll have until Oct. 15 to file taxes. Filing for an extension will eliminate the threat of a late-filing penalty, which is normally 5 percent per month based on the unpaid balance. The IRS received 10.5 million extension forms last year, 4 million of them electronically. Visit www.irs.gov to request an extension online.
• Resist the urge to skip the process completely: Not filing a return when required is considered income tax evasion with penalties that include paying back taxes, interest and possible fines, and possibly even serving a prison sentence in the most serious cases.