procrastinators, hereís a friendly reminder: Time is
running out. In less than two weeks it will be April 15,
the deadline for filing your federal and state tax
good news: With very few tax changes for 2013, there
arenít any big head-scratchers to sort out this year.
Thatís a big change from a year ago, when the
tax-filing season was delayed by a flurry of last-minute
tax-law changes enacted by Congress.
that doesnít mean you can coast entirely this year. Itís
still easy to trip yourself up with math errors, filing
mistakes or even forgetting to report your fantasy
are some last-minute items worth noting:
PANIC, BUT DO FILE: "A lot of people panic this
time of year," said California Franchise Tax Board
spokeswoman Denise Azimi, either because they canít
pay what they think they owe or donít have all their
thatís you, donít avoid the April 15 deadline. Youíre
better off filing the return on time and paying what you
can, then waiting 30 days for a billing notice with the
exact amount of tax due. "You can then get on a
payment plan and pay it off over time," said Azimi.
"Itíll save you a lot of headaches and money down
you donít file, you could be subject to penalties and
interest, which can only add to your tax burden. Monthly
installment plans, with a one-time startup fee, are
offered by the Internal Revenue Service.
THE EASY ERRORS: One of the biggest mistakes, especially
for those filing a paper return, is basic math.
Double-check everything before you file.
youíre filing an electronic form ó and more than 80
percent of taxpayers now e-file their returns ó the
math computations will be done for you. But you can
still make errors by inputting the wrong Social Security
number or tax-filing status (married, head of household,
filing jointly, etc.) or by mistyping your bank routing
number for direct deposit of a refund.
common error is misstating what you paid last year in
estimated tax payments. In California, itís the No. 1
mistake on state tax returns, Azimi said.
above all, donít forget to sign and date your return.
OVERLOOK TAX CREDITS: When filing, be sure to look for
state or federal tax credits that might apply, such as
home energy-efficiency improvements, college costs,
child care expenses and charitable donations.
of the commonly overlooked credits is the federal Earned
Income Tax Credit, known as the EITC. Designed to help
low-income working adults, itís a refundable credit,
so even if you donít owe taxes, you could still get
money back in your pocket. (Itís federal only, not
available on state returns.)
based on income and family size, but can be as much as
$6,000. Generally, your 2013 earned income must be below
$51,567 for couples filing jointly with three children
or less than $14,340 for a single with no children. To
see if you qualify, search for the "EITC
Assistant" tool on the IRS.gov website. The average
credit last year was $2,300, according to the IRS.
FOOTBALL INCOME?: Another source of tax return errors is
not reporting all your income, even from that online
fantasy football league.
you donít report the income, you can expect to hear
from the IRS," Sandra Block, senior associate
editor with Kiplinger personal finance magazine, said in
an email. If you received a Form 1099-MISC for casino
winnings or a Form 1099-DIV for dividends, for instance,
be assured that the IRS received a copy, too.
IRS views fantasy football in the same way it views
gambling and lottery winnings, which are also
taxable," said Block. "Even if you find buried
treasure in your backyard ó as happened to a couple in
Northern California last year ó the found property is
taxable at its fair market value."
she wryly noted: Stolen property is also considered
taxable, but "itís unlikely that most criminals
TWICE ON REFUNDS: Lots of taxpayers relish getting that
refund in the mail or direct-deposited to their bank.
But personal finance advisers say thatís not
necessarily a good thing.
much as people love getting a big check from the IRS, itís
not good money management," said Kiplingerís
Block. "By adjusting your withholding, you can give
yourself an automatic raise and use the money to pay off
debt or increase your retirement savings." She
recommends asking your employer to adjust your W-4 form,
so youíll immediately get more take-home pay that can
be allotted to savings or debts.
she noted, being owed a refund can make you vulnerable
to fraud due to identity theft, which has been a nagging
problem for the IRS. In recent years, thousands of
taxpayers have discovered that someone else, using
stolen Social Security or other data, has filed a tax
return in their name, stealing their tax refund. As part
of a beefed-up enforcement effort, the IRS said last
week that it prevented $17.8 billion in refund-fraud
attempts in 2013, obtaining more than 1,000 indictments
and 400 convictions of tax return fraudsters.
FOR HELP: With the tax-filing deadline just days away,
donít despair. Sharpen those pencils or, better yet,
hit the computer keyboard, pick up the phone or seek out
free tax-preparation help thatís still available
through April 15.
HELP FOR FILING TAXES
Revenue Service: Call the IRS at 800-829-1040 or go