|It’s perfectly understandable to procrastinate on filing your taxes. After all, if you’ve worked at more than one company in the last year, filing could involve multiple W-2 or 1099 forms — and potentially the disagreeable task of dogging former employers for necessary information.
Not to mention, filing taxes can be expensive, with the National Society of Accountants estimating that the average tax professional charged $261 for an itemized Form 1040 and state tax return in 2013. That cost would chip away at the return you’re looking to receive in the first place — or add to the sum you’re going to have to pay.
With Tax Day just two weeks away, time is running out for those who have yet to file their taxes. Luckily, there are many on- and off-line services can help you submit your return on time. The time and money spent filing are worth the burden when weighed against the prospect of IRS penalties, audits or worse.
3 Tips to File Your Taxes On Time
1. Seek Free Assistance From Organizations Like VITA, TCE and Tax-Aide
There are a number of national organizations that provide free tax-filing assistance, including the AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide and the IRS’ VITA and TCE programs.
The Tax-Aide program, now in its 46th year, is the largest free tax-assistance service in the United States. Staffed by more than 32,000 trained volunteer tax specialists at more than 7,000 locations nationwide, Tax-Aide helps more than 2 million taxpayers each year. The program is funded by government grants, donations and the AARP, and is available Feb. 1 through the last filing day, April 15, to provide assistance to Americans with low to moderate income, especially seniors.
Additionally, the IRS offers two programs designed to help lower-income families and seniors, respectively. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free tax help to those making $52,000 or less annually.
Staffed by IRS-certified volunteers, VITA sites are located at community centers, libraries, schools and shopping malls across the U.S. Volunteers are equipped to provide basic income tax preparation and electronic filing help, as well as inform taxpayers about various credits they might qualify for.
The Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program offers free tax service to all, with particular attention given to assisting seniors with pensions and other retirement-related tax issues.
2. File Online or With an App
If you’ve put off filing, your best bet to ensure on-time delivery is by filing online or through a mobile app. The IRS is actually encouraging all taxpayers to file electronically this year, as it both speeds up the receipt of refunds and — in the event that you’re filing in April — is much faster to process than submitting through snail mail.
TurboTax, Free File and TaxAct are downloadable software tools that can take the place of an accountant at little to no cost. Depending on your situation, these programs do come with various versions that might apply to your specific needs.
For example, for federal filing, TurboTax offers a free edition, especially helpful for first-time filers or students; a $49.99 deluxe version, for those seeking extra guidance on more than 350 available deductions and credits, including homeowner tax deductions; a $74.99 premier version, for those who sell stocks, bonds or mutual funds; and a $99.99 home and business version, for those with home-office tax deductions and small-business asset depreciation. That $74.99 is still less than a third of the average tax preparer fee.
Furthermore, many brokers offer clients complimentary or reduced prices for these services, such as Vanguard, which offers the deluxe and premier versions of TurboTax for free to Flagship Services and Asset Management Services clients. Fidelity and Scottrade offer similar discounts, as well.
Additionally, in recent years, many mobile apps have been developed to either help file your taxes or help manage information leading up to filing season. SnapTax by TurboTax allows you to file on the go from your cell phone or tablet; IRS2Go provides easy status monitoring of your return and iDonatedIt helps keep track of non-cash charitable donations made throughout the year so all necessary information is aggregated in one convenient place.
3. Know the Rules and Keep All Required Documents on Hand
The best way to prepare for tax season, and to quicken the process of filing, is to know the rules. For example, if your individual gross income did not exceed $10,000, you’re not required to file your taxes at all, although you’re welcome to if you expect a return. That threshold is bumped to $11,500 for individual seniors 65 and older, and $20,000 for married couples filing jointly.
For homeowners, proper filing requires a lot of information, such as your property tax bill, any points paid to refinance, payment of the first-time home buyer tax credit and capital gains. Being familiar with the IRS’ rules upfront can save you time when filing in April.
Gather up all bank statements, relevant bills, manufacturer certification statements and income forms before filing your return to make the process as painless as possible.