Tax Advice for Filing Your Tax Return

  1. Always File Your Tax Return: Many people who owe tax on April 15th make the big mistake of not filing their tax return because they don't have any money to send in with their tax return. By filing your tax return even without any payment, you avoid the large 5% a month late-filing penalty and only have to pay the much smaller late-payment penalty. If your tax return isn't ready to be filed, then file an extension in order to avoid the 5% a month late-filing penalty.

  2. Extension Payment: If you owe money to the IRS on April 15th, you need to pay the money owed even if you get an extension to file your tax return. The extension, Form 4868, does not give you extra time to pay your taxes owed. You can make a payment with the extension. Even if you don't have the money owed to the IRS, you should definitely file the extension in order to avoid the 5% a month late filing penalty. The late payment penalties are a lot less than the late filing penalty.

  3. Tax Records Storage: Keep your tax records for at least four years from the date your tax return was filed. The statute of limitations expires after three years from the time you filed your return (based on the due date of the filing year such as April 15th), or two years from the date the tax was paid, whichever is later. If you have depreciable property or stocks, you should keep a copy of your property and stock records indefinitely so that you have a way to calculate the cost basis when the properties or stocks are sold.

  4. Change of Address: If you are filing your tax return and have moved since the previous year, just put down your new address on your tax return. If you move after you have filed your tax return and before you have received your refund, fill out a change of address form at your old post office or go to www.usps.com and fill out a postal change of address online. If you have moved in the middle of the year and want to notify the IRS, you can also mail in a Form 8822, Address Change Request.

  5. Filing Requirement: In general, if your income is less than your personal exemptions and Standard Deduction, you don't need to file a tax return. You can look at the Form 1040 instructions for a table listing the gross income requirements for different filing statuses and scenarios. However, most people who don't need to file a tax return should file one anyway. If you had federal tax withheld from your paychecks or if you qualify for the earned income credit or additional child tax credit, you want to file a return even if you don't need to in order to get your tax refund. If you don't file your return, you won't get a refund.

  6. Tax Refunds: If you e-file your tax return and choose to direct deposit your refund, you will typically receive your refund in 10 to 16 days. If you e-file and did not choose direct deposit or if your direct deposit information was inaccurate, you will typically receive your refund check within three weeks. If you mailed in your tax return instead of e-filing, you will typically receive your refund in six to eight weeks. To check on the status of your refund you can go to www.irs.gov and click on Where's My Refund? link or you can call the IRS Refund Hotline at (800) 829-1954. It takes about 7 days after you e-file or 4 to 6 weeks after you filed a paper return for your refund information to be available on the IRS systems. You should have a copy of your tax return in front of you when you inquire about your refund since you need to know the Social Security Number, Filing Status and refund amount to have access to your tax refund information.

  7. Copy of Your Old Tax Return: Call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 or mail in Form 4506-T to get a free transcript of your old tax return. You can download Form 4506-T from the IRS web site, www.irs.gov. A transcript of a tax return works for most student loan and other type of loan applications where a tax return is needed. However, if you need an exact copy of a previously filed and processed return and all attachments (including Forms W-2), you must complete Form 4506 (PDF), Request for Copy of Tax Return and mail it to the IRS address in the instructions along with a $39 fee for each tax year requested. Copies are generally available for returns filed in the current and past 6 years.

  8. Amended Returns: If you made a mistake on your tax return, the way to correct the mistake is to file an amended return, Form 1040X. Usually, you should wait until the IRS processes your tax return before filing the amended return. If it is a mistake such as entering an incorrect amount of federal tax withheld, the IRS will usually catch the error and correct it when they process your tax return. If the IRS corrects the mistake, then you don't need to file an amended return. Once the IRS processes your tax return and you get your refund, if the mistake wasn't corrected by the IRS, then you need to file Form 1040X which can be downloaded from the IRS web site, www.irs.gov.

  9. Surviving Spouse: You can still file a married filing jointly tax return the year your spouse passes away. Filing a joint return almost always provides a bigger refund. If you have a dependent child, then the two years after the year your spouse dies, you can file as a Qualifying Widow(er). If you don't have a dependent, then you would file as either Single or Head of Household based on which criteria you meet in the years following the year your spouse dies.

  10. Injured Spouse: When a joint return is filed and only one spouse owes past due federal tax, past-due child support, a federal debt, or state income tax, the other spouse can be considered an injured spouse and can request his or her share of the joint refund. If this situation applies to you, file Form 8379, Injured Spouse Claim and Allocation, to recover your share of the joint refund.

    You are considered an injured spouse if you:

    (1) Filed a joint tax return
    (2) Have reported income (such as wages, interest, etc.)
    (3) Have made and reported tax payments (such as federal income tax withheld from wages or estimated tax payments) or claimed the earned income credit or other refundable credit, and
    (4) Have an overpayment, all or part of which can be applied against the past-due amount for which you are not liable.

    If the injured spouse lives in a Community Property state, only requirements (1) and (4) need to be met to file Form 8379. Community property states are Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.

  11. Presidential Election Campaign Box: On the top of the Form 1040 there is a question that asks if you want to contribute $3 to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. Whether or not you checkmark this box, it doesn't affect your tax return in any way. You will receive the same amount of refund or owe the same amount of taxes whether or not you checkmark the box. The $3 that goes to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund comes from a source other than your tax return.

  12. Name Change: If your name changes because of marriage, divorce, or other reasons, you need to contact the Social Security Administration. They will issue a new social security card reflecting your new name and automatically send the IRS your new name. To change the name shown on your card, you need to complete SSA Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card which you can do on www.ssa.gov. You can also obtain Form SS-5 by calling SSA at 1-800-772-1213 or visiting your local SSA office. Updating your name with the Social Security Administration before you file your tax return prevents delays in processing your tax return. If you are ready to file your tax return and haven't updated your name, you have two choices. First, you can file using your maiden name so that your last name matches the IRS records. Second, you can update your name with the Social Security Administration, then wait about two weeks for your last name to be updated on the IRS records before filing your tax return.

  13. Parent as Dependent: If you can claim your parent as a dependent and you pay over half of the cost of maintaining your parent's household, then Head of Household filing status can be used on your tax return. Head of Household has better tax rates and a higher Standard Deduction than Single filing status. You can even claim Head of Household status when your parent is in a nursing home or lives in their own home.

  14. Accidentally Overpaying the IRS: If you owe taxes to the IRS and accidentally pay too much to the IRS with your extension payment or tax return, you usually do not have to do anything. The IRS service center should make the correction for you. The IRS Service Center will usually send you a refund of the difference between what you owe and what you sent in. Accidental overpayments of taxes owed can occur several ways. One way is if you pay your taxes owed by either a credit card or electronic funds withdrawal, then incorrectly mail in a check with a Form 1040-V for the tax owed so you end up paying the taxes owed twice.


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