Five ideas for saving time and money as you prepare taxes


The typical taxpayer is expected to spend more than three business days and more than $200 completing his or her tax return.

As people get ready to file their 2009 tax returns, there are a few things they can do to save time and money.

1. Make sure you’re prepared. Having a few key items available when you start your taxes will save a lot of time. These include:

• Your tax return from 2008

• Social Security numbers for you, your spouse and children

• All W-2s (wage and tax withheld form for 2009 supplied by your employer), 1099s (statements on investment income provided by your financial services institutions), mortgage interest statements and other statements related to income

• All statements related to expenses that you will be claiming on your tax return

• The routing numbers and account numbers for the accounts in which you want to directly deposit your tax refund.

2. Consider using an online tax program.

One advantage of using an online tax program is that many of the items you need to start your taxes—like your prior year’s return—can be stored by the program. So, you don’t have to waste time hunting down information every year.

More than 32 million people filed their tax returns from their home computers during 2009, up nearly 20 percent from the prior year, according to Internal Revenue Service data. That number is likely to continue to increase as more people realize the benefits of online tax prepartion and electronic filing.

Using the right online tax program makes it a lot easier and faster for people to finish their tax return with no need to go to the store or download a program onto their computer.

Online tax programs also are a lot more accurate. In fact, the IRS reports that an electronically prepared and filed return has an error rate of less than 1 percent, compared to an error rate of about 20 percent for a paper prepared return.

3. Free file if you can.

Depending upon how complicated a person’s taxes are, they may be able to prepare and e-file their tax return absolutely free.

For example, if you don’t need to itemize, and only have a few simple requirements—such as claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit—you may be able to use a free online tax program.

If your tax situation is more complicated —for example, you have itemized deductions, investment income or you are a small business owner—you will want to make sure to purchase the online solution that is tailored to your needs.

Good online tax programs for people with general tax needs are available for less than $20 and even investors or small business owners who have more complicated returns can find solutions for less than $75.

4. Maximize your credits and deductions.

The average tax refund for 2008 was nearly $2,800. However, many taxpayers have the sinking feeling that they are not getting the tax breaks they should. In fact, according to an independent survey, two-thirds of 1,000 randomly surveyed taxpayers fear they may overlook tax breaks or make mistakes that could cost them in fines or penalties.

There are dozens of credits and deductions that people may have available to them. So it’s important to make sure that the tax program they’re using is geared to identify these and guide them to options that will maximize their refund.

Some programs will also provide tools to help further ensure accuracy. For example, while millions of people donate clothing and household items to charities, few have any idea of the value.

A tax program with a charitable donation calculator provides an easy way for determining and documenting the fair market value of these items, helping you realize the greatest charitable contribution deductions you can.

5. E-file and use direct deposit.

Electronically filing and using direct deposit significantly increases how quickly taxpayers have access to their refund.

Generally, e-filers can have their refund deposited directly into their accounts within a few days, compared to the weeks it takes to receive a mailed check.

Certain tax programs also allow customers to split their refund and deposit it into three separate accounts. For example, you could deposit part in your checking account, part in your savings account and part directly into a tax-advantaged IRA account.

—Courtesy of ARAcontent

 


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