Getting Ready for Tax Time

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Sure, it’s only January. But you have to prepare your tax return eventually. And the sooner you begin, the sooner you’ll have the dreaded task behind you.

Here are tips to get you going.

For the do-it-yourselfer

Start collecting—Those myriad official scraps of paper with number and letter combinations like W-2, 1099-R, 1099-Int, should be arriving in your mailbox throughout January. Save them all—preferably in a single file folder, envelope or box.

Something else to save: The postcard from the IRS with your self-stick mailing label. You’ll receive one if you prepared your own tax return last year.

Choose your method—Paper or electronic? Despite the push for electronic filing, the IRS and most states still accept hard-copy returns filled out by hand. A quick trip to the library or post office will supply the instructions and forms you’ll need—for free. Be sure to get duplicates in case you need to change something you’ve written in ink.

Speaking of changes, tax programs take the work out of corrections. Pick one that’s designed for home users so the input process is easy. The software might even find overlooked deductions, which can help defray the cost.

Another time saver—most programs include the option of electronic filing. Of course, you can also choose to print the return and mail it.

If you prefer snail mail, use the “certified, return receipt requested” service offered by the post office. That way you’ll have a receipt showing the date your return arrived at its destination.

If you’re hiring a professional

Organize your records—What? You haven-t done this all year? Well, now is the hour. Take all those forms from your various income sources and look through them. If you received corrected forms, discard the originals to avoid duplication. The more accurate your information is, the fewer questions your preparer will have, and the more quickly your return will be completed.

Make an appointment early—That April 14th rush is hard on everybody. Worse, a panicked dash to the wire could cause errors that cost you money to fix when they’re discovered later.

Consider e-file—Find out whether your accountant includes e-file in the quoted price. Sending returns to the government via computer is fast, easy and secure, and can be used for both state and federal returns. Best of all, you won’t even have to stand in line at the post office.

For more information about your personal federal income taxes, or to research a question, check the status of your return and/or your refund, visit http://www.irs.gov/index.html or call 1-800-829-1040.

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