April 15th is less than a month away. The sooner you file, the sooner you can get a refund – except if you make mistakes on your return. Here are the five most common tax mistakes and how to avoid them.
Use the correct tax form and filing status: Your filing status determines deductions, tax credits and more, including whether you can use the “quick” 1040 form. The IRS filing status page helps you determine which forms to use, which household and child care expenses can be claimed, whether you can deduct student loan interest, and more. Even if you are using a tax preparer, check the IRS website first, since it is great FREE advise from the people who know taxes best.
You are not qualified: Also according to the IRS, the credits most often abused or overlooked are the standard deduction, Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child and Dependent Care Credit. That, and using tax preparers who misrepresent themselves as experts. Check with your state or city consumer protection agency for regulations governing what tax preparers must tell you before and after filing on your behalf, including whether not he or she is specially trained in tax law. Even if you don’t live in NYC, as I do, the city’s Bill of Rights for tax preparation services is an excellent guideline on how to avoid tax preparation fraud.
Your signature here: An unsigned return is as worthless as an unsigned check. It’s just not valid. If you are filing jointly, both of you have to sign, as does the tax preparer, if you used one. If you are filing online, you must sign electronically via an online PIN code from the IRS. Click here to register with the IRS for a signing code.
Who are you: According to the IRS, putting the wrong name on a tax form is one of the most common errors. It happens when your name changes via marriage, divorce or another reason, and the new name doesn’t match what’s in the IRS system. There may not be enough time before this year’s filing to notify the Social Security Administration, IRS, your state motor vehicle department and get your name changed officially in all the records, so it may be safer to use your “old” name for your 2014 taxes and start the name change paperwork after April 15th.
What’s your number: Of course you have memorized your own Social Security number, but perhaps not those of your spouse or children. Simply, be sure you’ve got all the numbers right. And while you are at it, double check your bank account number if you have opted for direct deposit of your refund, especially those inscrutable numbers in front of your checking or savings account. That’s the routing number that identifies the bank.
The good news is that even with mistakes, you are less likely to be audited, because of government funding cutbacks for the IRS and other federal agencies.