Haven’t yet hit the send button on that tax return? Don’t fret. These last-minute tax-filing strategies can help you streamline your filing process—and maybe even get you a bigger refund!
1. E-file your taxes
If you take advantage of the IRS electronic-filing option, you’ll get any refund you are due in about three weeks, compared with about six weeks for snail-mail filers. Plus, e-filing minimizes errors, which could hold up your refund.
2. Double-check for deductions
People who don’t have a big mortgage or high state and local taxes often go for the standard deduction ($6,200 for single filers and $12,400 for those filing jointly) and skip the process of itemizing. That doesn’t mean you can’t get some additional “above the line” deductions to further reduce your taxable income—and what you owe Uncle Sam. Self-employed? Write off your health insurance, retirement-plan contributions and part of your self-employment-tax payments.
3. Make an IRA contribution to lower your taxable income total
If you have some extra cash on hand, contribute to your IRA. For people in the 15 percent tax bracket, a $5,500 deposit now lets you shave $825 off your IRS bill—and bulk up your retirement income. In the 25 percent bracket? You would save $1,375.
4. Find free tax-prep help
No-cost tax-prep assistance is available through a couple of federal programs. If you make less than $53,000 per year, for example, you may have your return done for free by an IRS-certified volunteer. In addition, senior citizens—and often other taxpayers as well—can get advice and filing help through the Tax Counseling for the Elderly program. For information on both services, including the locations of nearby offices, search for “free tax return preparation” at irs.gov.
5. Know when to call in a tax-prep pro
If you have a lot of health-care bills, income from your own business or lots of deductions, consider hiring a professional. Expect to pay up to $300. The cost can be well worth it in additional refunds—and peace of mind.
6. Try tax-preparation software
Want to do your own taxes? Great! But unless you have a simple return, it's a good idea to buy tax software. The best programs help you claim every available deduction and credit by prompting you with the appropriate questions about your situation. Three programs recommended by All You readers: TaxAct.com ($12.99), TurboTax (about $70), and FreeTaxUSA.com (no cost).
7. Get an extension
Despite your best efforts, you still might need more time to file. Send in Form 4868 and the IRS will give you until Oct. 15—no questions asked. You’ll still need to estimate what you owe and pay it by April 15. If the estimate is at least 90 percent of what you eventually have to pay, you won’t be penalized (if your finances are unchanged, you probably can pay this year what you paid last year).
8. File on time, even if you can't pay your bill in full
Can’t pay your tax bill? You could try to make a deal with the IRS by requesting an “offer in compromise” to reduce your debt (search for the term at irs.gov). But note: The agency will scrutinize your assets, and it likely will reject you if you have significant ones. An easier solution: Send a completed return or extension request by April 15 and you’ll pay only 0.5 percent interest per month, compared with a 5 percent monthly penalty if you don’t file on time.