Heartbleed breach puts 900 Canadian tax accounts at risk
Lessons from the late John Pinette, accountant-turned-comic

15 tax-filing tips for April 15

It's one day until the tax filing deadline. Are you panicking yet?

Tax day taxes due April 15

Don't. You've got time.

Technically, we have a day and a half (sorry for not posting sooner; one of those crazy days) to get our returns done -- and by "we," I mean all y'all planning to send in a 1040 because I've already filed an extension. The Internal Revenue Service accepts as timely filed returns that are postmarked or e-filed by midnight April 15 local time, so that gives you today and tomorrow.

To help you cope with any still pending tax issues (remember, tomorrow is the deadline for several tax matters), this week's By the Numbers figure is 15, as in April 15 and the following 15 tax filing tips.

1. Don't make common tax mistakes.
The Internal Revenue Service says it sees more math errors than anything every filing season. But you don't want to make any of these 10 common tax-filing mistakes. They could cost you tax money or at the least slow down any return you might be expecting.

2. Don't overlook tax breaks.
Neither do you want to leave tax money on the table. So check out these 10 overlooked tax breaks to find out if they apply to your tax situation. If so, claim them!

3. Take advantage of deductions without itemizing.
Every filing season much attention is paid to itemized deductions. But most taxpayers don't fill out Schedule A. But they still might be eligible for one or more of the many above-the-line tax deductions that are available to every filer regardless of whether they itemize or claim the standard deduction.

4. Max out your 2013 IRA contributions.
Putting in as much as you're allowed into your retirement account every year will help you build a bigger nest egg faster. If you didn't do that last year, you can add the money for the prior tax year as late as April 15. Contributing for last year also could provide a couple of tax breaks. You might be able to deduct at least part of what you put into your traditional IRA; it's one of the above-the-line deductions mentioned in the previous tip. It also could help you claim the retirement saver's credit.

5. Do your homework if you're a tax-filing newbie.
They say you learn something new every day. If you're a new taxpayer filing your taxes for the first time, you learn a lot this time of year. Do your tax homework. It could pay off nicely.

6. Pay your estimated tax.
In addition to being the due date for any tax you owe with your annual return, April 15 also is the due date for this year's first estimated tax payment.

7. Report your gambling, prize winnings.
Were you lucky last year? Then Uncle Sam gets lucky now. Any winnings, be they from bets (legal and illegal), lottery drawings or other prizes, are taxable income.

8. Get free tax help.
Lots of companies offer Tax Day freebies. But the best no-cost item at tax time is free help filing your return. If you made less than $58,000 last year, you can use the IRS Free File service to prepare and file your tax return online. If you made more, check out the Fillable Forms option. And if you want face-to-face help, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs for the elderly are located in communities nationwide.

9. Check out alternate ways to pay what you owe.
Tax bill huge? The IRS offers several ways to pay. You can set up an installment plan directly with the IRS. Or if you just can't pay off your full tax bill even over time, you can try to convince the IRS to take less via an offer in compromise.

10. Don't fly audit red flags.
Fewer of us are being audited. But statistics don't matter if you happen to be one of the unlucky few who has a return selected by the IRS for added examination. Lessen that chance by making sure your tax claims aren't that different from similarly situated filers.

11. Document, document, document.
If, however, the IRS come asking questions, your best protection is to have sufficient substantiation for your claims. Digital records are OK, including selfies that are used as an audit defense.

12. Be on guard for tax scams.
The Heartbleed online security threat has lots of folks worried. Around 900 Canadian taxpayers ended up with their information revealed to hackers. But even in normal times, con artists abound and they ramp up their tax scam efforts as the filing deadline nears. Don't become a victim.

13. Calculate your new taxes if you're rich.
It's tough being rich. I say that with a little less sarcasm this tax season as wealthier individuals face a slew of new tax hikes on their bigger bank accounts. Make sure you know the laws and do the math carefully (see tip number 1) so that you owe what the new rates demand, not more.

14. File your state taxes.
In addition to federal filing duties, many folks also face state tax deadlines. Most of the states that collect tax on income or other earnings follow the federal April 15 deadline. The good news is that most states make it easy for their taxpayers to file online.

15. File an extension.
Finally, if you just can't get your tax return done by tomorrow, get an extension. Most states accept your federal request for more time and automatically extend your state deadline for six more months, too. It's better to fill out the forms correctly and send them in later than to file in a hurry and make mistakes. Just make sure you pay what you owe by April 15. The extension is for filing forms only, not paying your taxes.

Whew! That's a lot of information. But if you want more, check out the Daily Tax Tips for or each month of the filing season: January, February, March and April.

Here's hoping you'll find what you need to finish your 1040 today or tomorrow and in a way that gets you a good tax result.


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