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Tax Tips for Last-Minute Filers

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Here’s how to avoid mistakes if you’re feeling rushed

by Jean Chatzky

There are those who are extremely diligent when it comes to filing their taxes well before tax day, and then there are those who, well, would rather go out and play in the snow. About 25 percent of Americans wait until the last 14 days before the deadline to prepare their tax returns, reports CNBC. If that sounds familiar, here are some tax tips for those of you who may be tempted to rush through your returns and how to avoid mistakes.

Get organized

If you’re going to leave filing to the last-minute, having everything organized can help you avoid missing the deadline. April Walker, lead manager for tax practice and ethics for the American Institute of CPAs, says that having all of your documents in order can help you from becoming frantic when it comes down to the wire. Make sure to have W-2 Forms from your employer, 1099 Forms if you were self-employed, records of expenses for things that might be deductible like non-reimbursed business expenses (this is the last year you’ll be able to take those) and tuition and other educational fees for yourself, your spouse and/or your dependents. Also, don’t forget to include any mortgage interest, real estate taxes, charitable contributions or medical expenses.

E-file is easiest

Electronic filing (e-filing) is huge for a reason — It’s easy to do (therefore quicker to work through if you are in a pinch for time) and you can do it while lounging on your living room couch. “Not only is e-filing easy, but it gets you your refund quicker,” says Barbara Weltman, president of Big Ideas for Small Business Inc. E-filing also reduces the chances of messing up the math since the software programs do all of the calculations for you, says Weltman. You’ll save time (no more making photocopies or waiting in line at the post office for return receipts) if you are already cutting it close to the deadline. If you make less than $64,000 a year, you may even be able to do it for free through the IRS’s free file program. Learn more at IRS.gov.

Double-check the numbers

It may seem ridiculous to be reminded of this, but double-check that you have the right Social Security Numbers for each person listed on your return — you, your spouse, dependents, etc. It’s so common that people mess this up that even the IRS reminds you to double-check your numbers on their website. Filling out incorrect or missing Social Security numbers could delay you from getting your refund.

File for an extension

“If it is the last minute, it’s totally fine to file an extension,” says Walker. “If you wanted to take time to make sure everything on your return is correct, it’s an automatic extension to avoid these type of mistakes.” Because if you make a mistake, you’ll need to amend that mistake which just takes more time off of your hands. As long as you submit your extension request before tax day, you are allowed an extra six months to file your return. But remember, the extension of time to file isn’t an extension of time to pay. To be safe, send Uncle Sam a check based on what you owed last year.

With Hattie Burgher