'Twas the day before ...

Tomorrow is Tax Day

Baltimoresun.com's tax experts offer advice for last-minute filers

Tax Talk

April 14, 2004|By Todd Beamon | Todd Beamon,Baltimoresun.com Staff

Tomorrow is Tax Day. Have you filed yet?

For those who haven't, Baltimoresun.com's tax experts -- Jim Dupree of the Maryland office of the Internal Revenue Service in Baltimore; Nicole M. Harrell, head of her own accounting firm in Baltimore; and Gregory S. Horning of Stout, Causey & Horning in Hunt Valley -- offer advice for last-minute filers.

They will return next week to answer questions about how to make filing next year much easier.

Dupree: My advice for the last-minute filer is to file electronically!

There are quite a few good commercial tax software programs available, and many commercial tax-preparers are e-filing, too. You should also check our Web site, www.irs.gov, to see if you're eligible -- through the Free-File Program -- to prepare and file your federal tax return online this year at no cost.

Electronic filing is easy. It's also fast and secure -- you get IRS confirmation when we've received your return -- and if you choose to have your refund directly deposited into a bank or savings and loan account, it generally can be done within two weeks.

If you need to speak with an IRS representative, please call the IRS Customer Assistance Help Line at 800-829-1040. Telephone assistance is available from 7 a.m. to midnight on Wednesday and Thursday.

If preparing a paper return, www.irs.gov has all the forms and publications you'll need, including links to private-sector e-filing partners and information on a variety of tax subjects.

If you do not have access to a computer but you need forms, please call the IRS TaxFax Service, using your fax machine, at 703-368-9894. The appropriate forms will be faxed directly to you. Just follow the voice prompts. You may select up to three items from the index.

And, of course, you still can pick up forms at your nearest IRS office on Thursday until 6:30 p.m.

You should start on your paperwork as soon as possible, but please allow some extra time for a coffee break or two. Please do not rush through the tax-filing process, as mistakes can be costly.

Don't forget to:

Put all required Social Security numbers on the return (they're not on the label).

Double-check your math.

Sign your form.

Attach all required schedules.

The numbers to check most carefully on the tax return are the identification numbers, particularly Social Security numbers, for each person listed. This includes the taxpayer, spouse, dependents and persons listed in relation to claims for the Child Care or Earned Income Tax credits.

Missing, incorrect or illegible SSNs can delay or reduce a tax refund.

You also should check that you have correctly figured the refund or balance due and have used the right figure from the appropriate tax table.

Those claiming the Child Tax Credit Tax should be sure to subtract last year's Advance Child Tax Credit when figuring the credit. There's a worksheet for this in the instructions for Forms 1040 and 1040A and in IRS Publication 972, "Child Tax Credit."

If you cannot remember how much your advance credit payment is, check the IRS Web site or call 800-829-1040 to obtain the amount.

Do not forget to sign and date your return. Both spouses must sign a joint return, even if only one had income that tax year. Also, anyone who is paid to prepare a return also must sign it.

In addition, if you're expecting a refund, consider having the amount direct-deposited into your account. Choosing direct deposit is the best way to guard against having a tax refund misplaced or stolen.

A word of caution, however: Some financial institutions do not allow a joint refund to be deposited into an individual account. Be sure to check with your financial institution to ensure that your direct deposit will be accepted.

Also, make sure you enter the correct nine-digit routing number for your financial institution and your correct account number when selecting direct deposit. Incorrect numbers can cause your refund to be misdirected or delayed.

If you must send a payment this year, please make your check out to "United States Treasury" and enclose it with, but not attach it to, the tax return or the Form 1040-V payment voucher, if used. The check should include the taxpayer's SSN, daytime telephone number, the tax year and the type of form filed.

You also may pay via credit card by calling Official Payments Corp. at 1-800-2PAY-TAX (1-800-272-9829) or LINK2GOV Corp. at 888-PAY-1040 (888-729-1040). In addition, you may pay online using the companies' Web sites at: www.officialpayments.com or www.pay1040.com.

Both firms charge a small, one-time fee -- and American Express, Discover, MasterCard or Visa cards are accepted.

Harrell: Filing requirements are based on your gross income and various other factors: filing status (single; married, filing jointly; head of household) and whether you are younger or older than 65 years of age. Filing returns can be made simple by determining which return would be appropriate -- 1040EZ, 1040 or 1040A.

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