It's that time again...time to start gathering all of that dreaded documentation to send to good old Uncle Sam! Recent stats say the IRS audited approximately 1 out of every 97 returns last year, so it pays to be careful. And even though this may seem like a very painful process, taking just a few simple steps right now will make your tax filing far easier and more accurate.
Keep it together. Make a quick list of all the documents or statements that were needed to complete your return last year – or call your tax planning professional for a checklist. Use this as a checklist to make sure you have a good start on the documents you may need this year. As you receive tax documents in the mail, grab your checklist, and mark the item as received. Then, keep all of the tax documents together in a large file or envelope marked "2008 TAXES."
Do the math. According to the IRS, the most common mistake on tax returns is bad math – from transposed numbers to downright incorrect data. And with one form leading to another, those errors can make a huge impact. Even if you use tax software, you're not off-the-hook – since it only adds the numbers YOU put in. Double-check entries carefully.
Every last cent. The IRS receives copies of your Form 1099 earnings each tax season. So, they know how much you make in interest and dividend income, and they will use that info to double-check your filing information. Make sure you collect all your earnings statements and document them on your return.
Sign on the line. It sounds almost silly, but forgetting to sign a return is actually a fairly common oversight. And the IRS won't process a return that doesn't have a signature. So, make sure you sign to avoid resubmitting your paperwork and possibly paying late-filing fees.
Remember, there isn't a lot of room for error when you're dealing with the IRS. A slight miscalculation could mean the difference between getting a return and writing a check – or worse, paying a penalty. It pays to work with a tax professional.
Beware of Tax Scams this Time of Year
As tax season rolls around, so do the scam artists. That's right...phishing criminals who want your personal information use this hectic and confusing time of year to prey on unsuspecting individuals.
These unscrupulous scammers send spam emails that appear to be from the IRS. These emails are often written to persuade you to link to a website that will allow you to update your data or receive important information. Remember, these phishing emails are quite sophisticated, and the links send you to what usually appear to be legitimate IRS or government websites. In reality, they are not. These sites will prompt you to divulge private information under the guise of the IRS requiring it, or sometimes, ironically, to protect you from identity theft or loss of privacy.
Although these emails are sophisticated and appear to be genuine, there are some simple steps you can take to avoid falling prey to one of these scams.
Always be suspicious of emails. Remember, the IRS does NOT initiate communication with taxpayers through email, but rather through the regular mail. If you receive an email that says it's from the IRS, you should immediately be suspicious and should forward it in its entirety to the IRS, so that they can take steps to shut down the fraudulent and bogus websites. The IRS requests that you forward all questionable emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Double-check the URL address. Keep in mind that all IRS websites begin with the following web address: http://www.irs.gov/. So, if you ever click a link in an email or visit a website that you believe is related to the IRS, the first thing you should do is confirm that the website begins with the correct URL address. Remember, sometimes it may "look" legitimate, but is actually an imposter site that is phishing for information. So always, always double-check the actual URL address before you type any information in the site.
Exercise extreme caution with attachments. When it comes to questionable emails, the best practice is to never open any attachments. That's because attachments are an extremely common method that hackers use to infect your computer with programs that may harm your computer or steal your personal information – often without you even knowing!
In today's technological environment, electronic communication offers us tremendous speed and convenience. But it can also be used for unethical purposes by scammers. Most organizations have worked very hard to put strict privacy policies in place. As a result, government agencies and financial institutions will almost NEVER ask you to divulge personal information via email.
If you receive any email asking for personal information of any kind, you should immediately be suspicious. When in doubt, call the customer service lines listed on your statements or documents and discuss the email that you received.
Make Sure You Get Your Money Now...Rather than Waiting for a Refund Next Year
While you're getting your tax information ready for the past year, it's a good time to look ahead to the coming year. For many of us, it's a constant balancing act to make sure we're withholding enough so that we don't have to pay at the end of the year, but getting a return at the end of the year isn't necessarily the best plan either. When you think about it, getting a refund check means that you let the IRS use your money throughout the year without paying you any interest. Wouldn't you rather have that money to use during the year?
Here's how you do it. The IRS allows you to increase the number of dependants on your W-4 withholding form, meaning that less will be withheld for taxes from each paycheck. But don't go overboard. You should only lessen the periodic tax withholding to match the expected refund. This way you are taking your refund as you go...instead of letting the IRS hold on to it.
Believe it or not, the IRS actually makes it easy to calculate! The IRS offers a handy IRS Bean Counter calculator for free, which lets you see how a change in withholding will affect your paycheck. Take advantage of this calculator today to see how changes can impact your take-home pay.
By following the tips above, you can help eliminate some of the frustration from tax season, as well as make sure you're on track for the coming year. Remember, before you make any changes, you want to be sure you are balancing the amounts carefully and correctly, so it's always a good idea to check with your tax professional.
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