Death, taxes and tax scams
A tax pep talk from Donald Duck

Tax day to-do list

Happy April 15!

April_15_calendar (2) Well, for some folks, it's a happy day. They've filed their returns. Heck, a lot of you probably have already spent or banked your tax refund.

But millions of taxpayers wake up every April 15 with some filing decisions to make. Here's a handy to-do list for you folks.

File your 1040
If you've done most of your 1040 work already, just get this over with today.

If you're still looking for tips and tax breaks, check out these earlier posts: Last-minute filing tips ... again, How I spent my tax season and Tax advice from TV talking heads.

As for the actual filing process, you can e-file up until 11:59 p.m. tonight, although I wouldn't recommend that. What if your computer crashes or your ISP is running slow and you somehow miss that magic midnight deadline? That's not a chance I'm willing to take.

I will tell you, however, that during the IRS press telephone conference announcing the 2009 Free File program, the agency's director of electronic tax services noted that the "dirty little secret" of e-fling is that if you file by midnight Pacific time, the IRS will accept that as timely filed. Again, I personally want my own time zone's midnight date stamp just to be sure.

If you prefer paper, just make sure your local post office will postmark your mailing today. Again, if you wait until the very end of the day and are part of one of those late-night runs that are local TV station staples each April 15, you have to trust the postal workers. I'd rather make sure and get there during normal working hours today to hand the envelope to a clerk.

Yes, there will probably be a line, but you want to send your taxes certified so you need that face-to-face interaction. That little receipt proves you met the April 15 deadline.

A tax pro was telling me last week how a client mailed his return last year on April 15 but apparently the envelope didn't get postmarked until April 17. When the IRS demanded a late-filing charge, he whipped out his certified mail receipt and the IRS accepted that as proof that it was indeed a postal service error.

File an extension
If you find that you just can't finish up all those forms and schedules, not to mention the worksheets to get to that point, then get an extension.

Simply send the IRS Form 4868. This very short document, as long as it's also e-filed or postmarked today, will automatically get you six more months -- until Oct. 15 -- to file your paperwork.

Details on the extension process can be found from several fellow personal finance bloggers who submitted extension-related posts to Tax Carnival #52: Time's almost up!

Remember, the extension is to file paperwork, not to pay.

And that brings us to the next item on our tax day to-do list.

Pay or make payment arrangements
If you have the cash to pay your tax bill, you can always send a check. Make it payable to U.S. Treasury. That's where the money actually goes; the IRS is just the collection agent.

You also can pay by credit card. If you do that, note any credit card processing fee (usually 2.5 percent of your tax bill) that you pay. Next year you might be able to deduct that amount.

If you just don't have the money for Uncle Sam, don't panic. The IRS offers several payment options.

Plus, this year, the agency seems to have found a heart. It says it will work with financially strapped taxpayers to help them meet their tax obligations without putting them further into fiscal crisis.

Pay your estimated taxes
Some of you might need to make an additional payment today. The first 1040-ES, estimated tax payment, of 2009 also is due on April 15.

Again, a postmark serves as "timely filed" to the IRS. You also can e-file and use the credit card option to cover this first of four estimated payments.

Check out April 15 means double tax duty for some for more on this added tax requirement.

Wheres_my_refund_2009 logo Check on your refund
If you've already filed and are expecting a refund, you can find out exactly where it is by using the IRS' online tracker Where's my Refund?

If there's a problem, the program should help you fix it.

And if you had your refund directly deposited, be sure to check your bank account. It might already be there!

Whatever tax tasks you still face today, don't let them get to you.

The day is still young and you have options. So just take a breath, look at what you have on your personal tax to-do list and then get to it.

As long as you file something today, you'll be OK.


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I guess that's the problem with strict deadlines -- if they say "By midnight," someone says "But midnight, where?" and they end up with lots of fairly arbitrary rules and cutoffs.

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