The calendar has turned to 2012, and before you know it, it's going to be time to sit down with that overstuffed shoebox and fill out your taxes. Here's a one-stop-shop of tax-time tips from the IRS:
Top 10 Tax Tips
The income tax filing season has begun and important tax documents should be arriving in your mailbox. Even though your return is not due until April, you can make tax time easier on yourself with an early start. Here are the Internal Revenue Service’s top 10 tips to ensure a smooth tax-filing process.
1. Gather your records Round up any documents you’ll need when filing your taxes: receipts, canceled checks and other documents that support income or deductions you’re claiming on your return.
2. Be on the lookout W-2s and 1099s will be coming soon; you’ll need these to file your tax return.
3. Have a question? Use the Interactive Tax Assistant available on the IRS website to find answers to your tax questions about credits, deductions, general filing questions and more.
4. Use Free File Let Free File do the hard work for you with brand-name tax software or online fillable forms. It's available exclusively at www.irs.gov. Everyone can find an option to prepare their tax return and e-file it for free. If you made $57,000 or less, you qualify to use free tax software offered through a private-public partnership with manufacturers. If you made more or are comfortable preparing your own tax return, there's Free File Fillable Forms, the electronic versions of IRS paper forms. Visit www.irs.gov/freefile to review your options.
5. Try IRS e-file IRS e-file is the safe, easy and most common way to file a tax return. Last year, 79 percent of taxpayers - 106 million people - used IRS e-file. Many tax preparers are now required to use e-file. If you owe taxes, you have payment options to file immediately and pay by the tax deadline. Best of all, the IRS issues refunds to 98 percent of electronic filers by direct deposit within 14 days, if there are no problems, and some may be issued in as few as 10 days.
6. Consider other filing options There are many options for filing your tax return. You can prepare it yourself or go to a tax preparer. You may be eligible for free face-to-face help at a volunteer site. Give yourself time to weigh all the options and find the one that best suits your needs.
7. Consider direct deposit If you elect to have your refund directly deposited into your bank account, you’ll receive it faster than a paper check in the mail.
8. Visit the official IRS website often The IRS website at www.irs.gov is a great place to find everything you need to file your tax return: forms, publications, tips, answers to frequently asked questions and updates on tax law changes.
9. Remember this number: 17 Check out IRS Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax, on the IRS website. It’s a comprehensive resource for taxpayers, highlighting everything you’ll need to know when filing your return.
10. Review! Review! Review! Don’t rush. We all make mistakes when we rush. Mistakes slow down the processing of your return. Be sure to double check all the Social Security numbers and math calculations on your return as these are the most common errors. Don’t panic! If you run into a problem, remember the IRS is here to help. Start with www.irs.gov.
Do I Need to File a Tax Return This Year?
You are required to file a federal income tax return if your income is above a certain level, which varies depending on your filing status, age and the type of income you receive. However, the Internal Revenue Service reminds taxpayers that some people should file even if they aren't required to because they may get a refund if they had taxes withheld or they may qualify for refundable credits.
To find out if you need to file, check the Individuals section of the IRS website at www.irs.gov or consult the instructions for Form 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ for specific details that may help you determine if you need to file a tax return with the IRS this year. You can also use the Interactive Tax Assistant available on the IRS website. The ITA tool is a tax law resource that takes you through a series of questions and provides you with responses to tax law questions.
Even if you don’t have to file for 2011, here are six reasons why you may want to:
1. Federal Income Tax Withheld You should file to get money back if your employer withheld federal income tax from your pay, you made estimated tax payments, or had a prior year overpayment applied to this year’s tax.
2. Earned Income Tax Credit You may qualify for EITC if you worked, but did not earn a lot of money. EITC is a refundable tax credit; which means you could qualify for a tax refund. To get the credit you must file a return and claim it.
3. Additional Child Tax Credit This refundable credit may be available if you have at least one qualifying child and you did not get the full amount of the Child Tax Credit.
4. American Opportunity Credit Students in their first four years of postsecondary education may qualify for as much as $2,500 through this credit. Forty percent of the credit is refundable so even those who owe no tax can get up to $1,000 of the credit as cash back for each eligible student.
5. Adoption Credit You may be able to claim a refundable tax credit for qualified expenses you paid to adopt an eligible child.
6. Health Coverage Tax Credit Certain individuals who are receiving Trade Adjustment Assistance, Reemployment Trade Adjustment Assistance, Alternative Trade Adjustment Assistance or pension benefit payments from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, may be eligible for a 2011 Health Coverage Tax Credit. Eligible individuals can claim a significant portion of their payments made for qualified health insurance premiums.
For more information about filing requirements and your eligibility to receive tax credits, visit www.irs.gov.
Make it Easy on Yourself: Choose the Simplest Tax Form
If you're among the taxpayers who still file a paper return, the IRS reminds you that it no longer mails paper tax packages, a step the agency took after continued growth in electronic filing, the availability of free options and as a way to reduce costs. If you're e-filing, the software will choose the best form for you, but if you're taking pencil to paper, make it as simple as possible by choosing the simplest tax form for your situation.
The quickest way to get forms and instructions is the IRS website at www.irs.gov. Taxpayers can also get them from a local IRS office, a participating community outlet like many libraries and post offices, or from the IRS's automated forms line at 1-800-TAX-FORM.
Here are some general rules to consider when deciding which paper tax form to file.
Use the 1040EZ if:
• Your taxable income is below $100,000
• Your filing status is single or married filing jointly
• You and your spouse – if married -- are under age 65 and not blind
• You are not claiming any dependents
• Your interest income is $1,500 or less
Use the 1040A if:
• Your taxable income is below $100,000
• You have capital gain distributions
• You claim certain tax credits
• You claim adjustments to income for IRA contributions and student loan interest
If you cannot use the 1040EZ or the 1040A, you’ll probably need to file using the 1040. Among the reasons you must use the 1040 are:
• Your taxable income is $100,000 or more
• You claim itemized deductions
• You are reporting self-employment income
• You are reporting income from sale of property
You can gain quick and easy access to IRS forms and instructions or find out more about e-file by visiting www.irs.gov. Tax products are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and often appear online well before they are available on paper. To view and download tax products, visit the IRS website and select Forms and Publications.
Four Ways to Get IRS Forms and Publications
The Internal Revenue Service has free tax forms and publications on a wide variety of topics. Because of continued growth in electronic filing, the availability of free options to taxpayers and to reduce costs, the IRS discontinued the automatic mailing of paper tax packages last tax season.
If you need IRS forms and publications, here are four easy methods for getting them.
- On the Internet You can access forms and publications on the IRS website 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at www.irs.gov.
- IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers There are 401 TACs across the country where IRS offers face-to-face assistance to taxpayers, and where taxpayers can pick up many IRS forms and publications. Visit www.irs.gov and go to Contact My Local Office on the Individuals page to find a list of TAC locations by state. On the Contact My Local Office page, you can also select Office Locator and enter your zip code to find the IRS walk-in office nearest you as well as a list of the services available at specific offices.
- At convenient locations in your community During the tax filing season, many libraries and post offices offer free tax forms to taxpayers. Some libraries also have copies of commonly requested publications. Many large grocery stores, copy centers and office supply stores have forms you can photocopy or print from a CD.
- By mail You can call 1-800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676) Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time – except Alaska and Hawaii which follow Pacific time – to order current year forms, instructions and publications as well as prior year forms and instructions by mail. You will receive your order by mail, usually within 10 days.