The April 17 deadline may be just hours away, but some Americans still haven’t even rounded up their W2s.
Acknowledging the tax procrastination is a national pastime, the Internal Revenue Service issued some tips and a series of videos to help last-minute filers avoid the common blunders that could delay their returns. Here is a look at the most common errors:
Misspelled name. Seems basic but tax returns will not be accepted if your name is not entered as it is appears on your Social Security card, or if the Social Security number is incorrect.
Thanks to a fluke of the calendar, the deadline to file taxes was extended until April 17th this year. While the procrastinators scramble to get their 1099s and schedule Ds in order, those who’ve already filed may be wondering when they’ll get their refund check. Our live chat on April 16 featured Andrea Coombes, the personal finance editor at MarketWatch, and Arden Dale, a Dow Jones columnist who writes about taxes and estate planning. CPA Melissa Labant of the AICPA also joined in. The chat was moderated by Janet Paskin, Digital Editor, Markets for the Wall Street Journal, formerly the editor of SmartMoney.com. Replay the event.
This time of year many Americans would like to take a swipe at the IRS. Some taxpayers even should, experts say — with their credit card.
Though paying a bill in full is the best way to avoid late charges and other hassles, credit card payments can help those struggling with the their bills to buy time – and even save money. “If you’re going to need a year or more to pay it out you could borrow on a low interest credit card and it could be a good deal,” says Gregg Wind, a certified public accountant in Los Angeles.
While not ideal, credit cards and lines of credit can help people pay the tax man by this year’s April 17 while avoiding potentially steep late payment penalties and interest charges. The IRS generally charges interest on any unpaid tax starting from the day the tax is due to the date it is paid. Currently at 3%, the interest rate is reset quarterly. And that doesn’t include late payment penalties, which are 0.5% of taxes owed a month. Between interest charges and late payment penalties, someone who is a year late in paying their taxes could see their bill increase by 9%, Wind estimates.
Some early filers trying to track their refunds through the Internal Revenue Service’s Where’s My Refund feature are getting a maddening response: what refund?
Glitches with the online feature are leaving taxpayers without any information on when they might get their refund, or any details about their tax returns. Normally taxpayers who enter their Social Security number, filing status and exact refund amount into the tool get an update on the status of their refund, including confirmation that their return is being processed and an estimate for when the IRS expects to cut the check.
One revenue-raising strategy unveiled in President Barack Obama’s budget proposal on Monday calls for beefing up the Internal Revenue Service’s enforcement efforts. That could mean increased scrutiny on individual tax returns, especially for small business owners.
The president’s budget plan would increase the IRS’s budget next year to $12.8 billion, about $950 million more than the 2012 budget, with the goal of ramping up collections from individuals and business that are behind on federal and state taxes or that owe government loans. The bulk of this money would be part of a program to prevent tax evasion and cheating and to update the IRS’s data system, according to the proposal. The reforms call for increasing collection by more than $2 billion over the next 10 years, much of that owed to states. The enforcement program should return $5 for each additional IRS dollar spent, according to the proposal. The IRS did not respond to requests for comment.
Taxpayers with simple returns have several new ways to file without having to pay for help.
The average cost for having an accountant prepare a Form 1040 with a Schedule A and a state tax return was $233 in 2011, up 1.7% from 2009, according to the National Society of Accountants. But the options for free tax help are growing. The Internal Revenue Service, for instance, offers Free File, a program that offers free tax-preparation software and other tools for taxpayers with low and moderate-income. Through the IRS site, taxpayers who make $57,000 or less can answer a few questions about their income, location and whether they qualify for certain credits to pull up a list of companies that offers free tax preparation software, including TaxSlayer, H&R Block and 1040.com. The IRS also offers Fillable Forms, electronic versions of IRS tax forms, for people who are comfortable calculating their own taxes.
Tax season gets into full swing today, when the Internal Revenue Service begins accepting electronically filed returns.
Once a rarity, e-filing is quickly becoming the norm: a record 100 million taxpayers filed electronically in 2011. That included 77% of individual returns filed, up from 58% in 2008, according to the IRS. A chunk of those taxpayers were do-it-yourselfers: about a third of all tax returns were filed online last year by people who did their own taxes using software, according to IRS data.
But while more people may be filing online, taxpayers still need to gather hardcopies of documents to back up their returns, says Elaine Smith, master tax adviser at H&R Block. For most people, W2 and 1099 forms, which report wages and income, should be arriving in the mail any day now.
If you owe estimated taxes, consider this your alarm clock.
You can hit the snooze button as long as you postmark or electronically submit your estimated tax payments to the IRS and your state(s) on September 15. For more details, read our primer on estimated taxes for what to do if you think you owe more or less than you expected. And, if you followed this summer’s federal debt and deficit debate, you can actually watch the taxes roll in at the daily Treasury statement, listed under Individual Income Taxes on Table IV.
You can find estimated tax forms at the IRS or your state’s tax or finance department web site.
Won’t be ready by the April 18, tax filing deadline? Don’t panic, writes Tom Herman in The Wall Street Journal.
It’s pretty easy to get an extension, he says. Most taxpayers are eligible for an automatic six-month filing extension from the Internal Revenue Service by completing Form 4868 and sending it in by this year’s longer than usual April 18, deadline. The form is on the IRS website (www.irs.gov), and you won’t need an excuse for the extension.
Getting more time is even simpler if you’re out of the country. You can receive two extra months to file even without asking for it. But waiting to file doesn’t let you off the hook if you owe taxes, warns Herman. Even if you extend your tax filing, you’ll need to pay-up by April 18, or owe interest and possibly some stiff penalties.
Don’t get complacent if you get an extension. As Herman reported earlier, you could miss out on credits or refunds if you don’t file your claim within three years after the date you filed your original return or within two years after the date you paid the tax, whichever is later.
The IRS reported earlier this year that it had $1.1 billion for nearly 1.1 million people who still hadn’t filed federal income-tax returns for 2007.
Imagine – you finally hit the send button on your electronic tax return only to find out that someone else already has filed in your name — and cashed your refund.
That happened to a friend of mine, and unfortunately occurs to thousands of taxpayers each year. Identity theft topped the list of consumer complaints made to the Federal Trade Commission in 2010 for the 11th year in a row, with more than 250,000 complaints.
And tax-related identity theft is no small chunk of change. In 2009, the Internal Revenue Service handled 23,000 cases of fraudsters using forged W-2 forms to collect tax refunds, according to the latest figures available. That year, there also were 24,000 cases of people using a stolen Social Security number to report income under another person’s name.
Sometimes the identity theft is obvious. Your e-filed tax return is rejected because someone has already filed under your name. Other times, “you get a notice from the IRS that says their records show you made more money than you reported on your tax return,” says Adam Levin, chairman of Identity Theft 911, an identity theft protection company. A less obvious sign - the refund you have been waiting for never arrives.
But don’t rush to claim identity theft because of a late refund, he warns. “You don’t want to flag yourself until you know you’ve got a problem,” says Levin. You don’t want an unnecessary tax audit. It normally takes about six weeks to get your check if you file by paper, or three weeks if you file online, says Levin. If the IRS says your check has already been cashed, and it wasn’t by you, that’s confirmation that identity theft could be involved.
Your main defense is to launch an investigation with the IRS, which will work to confirm your identity, track down the fraudster and recover your refund. Each incident has a different outcome, but most taxpayers should expect to wait at least six months for the case to be resolved, according to Identity Theft 911.
The Tax Blog brings together a team of award-winning tax journalists from the Dow Jones network and around the web to examine the tax issues, changes and legislation that affect families, investors and small business owners. Our contributors include Tax Report columnist Laura Saunders (WSJ), Tax Guy columnist Bill Bischoff and senior reporter Jilian Mincer (SmartMoney.com), retirement-focused reporter Anne Tergesen (WSJ), wealth management writer Arden Dale (Dow Jones Newswires), TaxWatch columnist Eva Rosenberg and personal finance reporter Andrea Coombes (MarketWatch), and reporter Alyssa Abkowitz (SmartMoney). They’ll provide the latest news and insight, mine the tax code for tips and loopholes, and answer your questions about tricky tax situations. Contact the The Tax Blog with ideas, suggestions or tax questions at email@example.com.