Tips for Last Minute Tax Filing
It’s April, and you know what that means: tax time! If you haven’t filed yet, then you need to get on that immediately. April 15th has passed, but you’re in luck. Since the 15th was on a Saturday, the deadline to file gets pushed to the next business day. Ordinarily, that would be Monday. However, this year, Monday April 17th is a federal holiday: Emancipation Day, in Washington D.C. To accommodate this, the entire country gets one extra day to file. This puts the tax deadline at 11:59pm on Tuesday, April 18th. If you’re still scrambling to get your return together in time, then here are a few tips for last minute filing.
- Always File. If your records are a mess, you have no idea how to declare certain types of income, or if you’re simply afraid of how much you’ll owe, you may be tempted not to file a tax return at all. This is always a mistake. If you earned any income in 2016, you need to report it. If you don’t, you’ll be subject to penalties and end up owing far more than if you had simply filed your return in the first place. The penalty adds up to 25% of what you owe, plus interest on that amount. Don’t subject yourself to that hassle.
- When in Doubt File for an Extension. So not filing at all would be a mistake, but still, you’re coming up on the deadline, and you’re no closer to making sense of last year’s finances. There’s a simple solution: file for an extension. By doing this, you can push the deadline back to October 16th of this year, giving you an extra six months to get your return in order—or hire someone else to do it. You can find the extension form on the IRS website, or file for free immediately and automatically through an online tax service.
- File Electronically. Maybe your financial records are in order, but tax forms confuse you. If that’s the case, you should consider using one of those aforementioned online tax services to file your return electronically. As long as you have all the important paperwork on hand, it will talk you through exactly what to enter where, how to declare different types of income, how to maximize your refund, and more. Some sites will even allow you to file a basic 1040 form for free, as well as depositing your refund directly into your bank account, much sooner than it would take to be mailed a check. The process will probably take a couple of hours, tops, and can help you ensure that everything is filed correctly and on time.
- Look for Other Aid. While it’s true that many tax websites will let you file a 1040 form for free, if your income is more complicated than that, or if it comes from multiple sources, they may start charging you—and the fees can add up quickly. If an online service or other professional tax help turns out to cost more than you can afford, then you might consider looking at other alternatives. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program is an IRS program that provides trained, IRS-certified volunteers to help you with your return for free, provided you make less than $54,000 per year, are disabled, or have limited English proficiency. You can also seek assistance from the IRS’s Tax Counseling for the Elderly program, if you’re 60 years or older. Their volunteers have specific expertise in pensions, 401(k)s, and other matters related to retirement income.
- Take Advantage of Tax Breaks. In your rush to file on time, don’t forget to take advantage of all the tax breaks that are available to you. If you’re contributing to an IRA, you can take up to $5,500 off of your taxable income, or $6,500 if you’re over 50 and contributed the maximum amount. If you have a health savings account, those contributions are deductible as well. Do a little research and make sure you’re taking full advantage of all applicable tax laws as they apply to you.
These are just a few tips to get you through your last minute 2017 filing as painlessly as possible. But remember, tax time doesn’t have to be a time of stress and anxiety. If you plan ahead, start earlier, and really research your tax options in advance, then hopefully next year you can have a much easier time of it and get even more money back.