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Tax Return Preparation: Tips for Doing it on Your Own

Now that you\'ve read up on all you need to know regarding your tax return, it’s time to file. Whether you decide to go it alone or get someone’s help, take note of these tips for making it a smooth sailing.

Tips for Tax Return Preparation on Your Own

  • Clean, correct, current and complete. Use good recordkeeping habits and a computer to complete your return.

  • Use the right forms and put them in sequential order to make it easier for the IRS to quickly read and review your tax return.

  • Use the correct filing status. The wrong tax category could cost you plenty in credits and deductions.

  • Claim all of your allowable exemptions.

  • Don’t round your numbers. This is a big red flag that you are estimating the numbers ,and it may increase your chance for an audit.

  • Make sure to pay special attention to the Earned Income tax credit and Child tax credit—they are typically the ones calculated incorrectly.

  • Sign your return. The IRS says unsigned tax returns are one of the most common taxpayer mistakes.

  • File and pay on time. You must pay at least 90% of your tax due by April 15 to avoid penalties.

  • If you’re not ready, you can file an extension. File IRS Form 4868, and you will get until October 15 to file and avoid a penalty.

  • Keep a copy of your return for at least 6 years after filing your return.

Tax Forms You\'ll Need

Also it helps to have all the documents you’ll need readily available, such as:

  • W-2 forms from your employer

  • 1099 forms from your banks and investment companies

  • Mortgage interest documents

  • Property tax statements

  • Medical expense receipts

  • Charitable contribution receipts

  • Sales tax receipts

  • IRA contribution records

Getting Tax Help from a Professional

Whether you use a reputable tax preparer or an accountant depends largely on your preferences. Retail tax chains like H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt will give you convenience with drop-in services speed, but an independent qualified accountant will more likely give you a more personalized service. Both will charge about the same.

If your tax needs are more complex, you may want to see a CPA. It could cost you more, but a CPA will have more expertise when it comes to the tax code and may end up saving you a lot in the long run.

You can find a retail chain in your local yellow pages. Independent accountants and CPAs can be found the same way, but you are better off going by word of mouth. If you do go with an independent tax preparer, check out his or her qualifications and experience as well as the type of support that will be provided in the event you are later audited.

If your return is relatively simple, expect to pay between $125 and $200. If your return is more complicated, you can expect to put down between $200 and $450. If you’re expecting to claim the Earned Income Credit, expect to pay between $150 and $200, since the EIC form is more complicated.

Free Tax Filing – It\'s Possible!

You could be eligible for free help! If your adjusted gross income is $52,000 or less, you may be eligible for Free File, a service offered by the IRS that gives free online tax preparation and online filing for those who qualify.

Besides Free File, there are other free services out there to help low-to-moderate income taxpayers prepare their returns. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) provides free tax help to those who earn $39,000 or less per year. VITA assistance sites are usually located at community and neighborhood centers or local libraries. To find your local VITA site, call 1-800-829-1040.

For more information about free help from the IRS, call 1-800-829-1040, or visit the IRS website.

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