If you’re a last-minute tax filer and the pressure of making the deadline has got you in a tizzy, don’t fret. Here are five tips to get you through this annual headache of figuring and filing your income taxes, consistently and correctly. –yvette caslin

Free Tax-Prep Software
The Internal Revenue Service’s website allows you to file your taxes free if you income is below $57,000. TaxACT and TurboTax also have free software for a simple federal return but will charge you state filings and when the process is little more complicated. Make sure your math is right. The program will do your calculations for you but it’s important to double-check your entries. Especially if you’ve been paid in cash or have 1099s, you want to ensure that your records and your employers records match. Avoid inconsistencies and underreporting; it’s a major infraction and is frowned upon by Uncle Sam. With all of the free software available, handwriting your returns are no longer the norm and the IRS could suspect fraud.

Post Office, UPS or FedEx?
If you don’t file electronically, make sure you know which post offices will have extended hours if you believe you won’t be able to make it during normal business hours. Check their website USPS.com to make sure yours will be open at desired time. Rather than dropping the envelope in a mailbox, go inside the post office or use some other service like FedEx or UPS.

Need an Extension?
If you just can’t seem to get it together, you need to file an extension. The clock is ticking and the IRS is unforgiving. You have until midnight on April 17 to file for an extensions, that buys you until October 15. If you owe the IRS, this doesn’t give you any additional time to make your payments to the IRS or banish the late-payment penalty. The form you’ll need is called the IRS Form 4868 and you have two options, you can mail it or e-file it.

You Must File
Don’t make how much anxiety you may be feeling, you have to file. When you file a 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ return, you’re allowed to go back and file an amendment with IRS form 1040X. It has one reward: you can claim deductions or credits you only realized you were entitled to after the fact. Amendments have to be filed within three years of filing the original return. As with an extension, though, you have to pay any taxes you owe by the 17. Unlike the extension, amendments can only be mailed; there’s no option to file electronically.

Deductions
Charitable donations are a legitimate deduction and normally range within 1% to 3% of income. Be mindful when it comes to noncash donations that can’t be verified with a canceled check or an acknowledgment from the charity. They could raise an eyebrow. Home office deductions can be slippery. They must be used exclusively for business. If you are not self-employed and are a salaried employee, you must understand the requirements.

Yvette Caslin

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