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Made a tax-filing mistake? Fix it with 1040X

There's an old tax myth that filing an amended tax return will get you audited.

Erasing mistakes

Not true.

In fact, failing to correct an error you made on your original tax return is more likely to cause you more tax trouble. When the Internal Revenue Service discovers the mistake, and the agency likely eventually will, you'll owe the tax due and penalties and interest.

And if you fail to claim a tax break on an amended return that you overlooked when you first filed, then you're the one cheating yourself out of tax savings.

An effort worth making: I know, dealing with the IRS more than you absolutely have to is a pain. But filing an ed return generally is a good idea, whether it gets you missed tax savings or causes you to owe a bit more than you thought.

The key is getting your tax house in proper order for better or worse. That will keep the IRS out of your life long-term.

It's not hard to fix an error or claim an overlooked tax break. Details are in the latest Weekly Tax Tip that focuses on how to fix tax mistakes with amended return.

Check out the full story for specifics. In the meantime, here are four highlights.

1. Meet the deadline: To claim a refund based on amended return information, you must file Form 1040X within three years after the date you filed your original return or within 2 years after the date you paid the tax, whichever is later.

If you filed your original Form 1040 (or 1040A or 1040EZ) before the April due date, the IRS considers it filed on the April deadline.

2. Make old-fashioned corrections: File a separate Form 1040X for each tax year you are amending. And mail each form in a separate envelope.

Yes, I said mail. You can't file an amended return electronically, yet. The IRS is working on changing that.

3. Complete the columns: The 1040X has three columns of info you'll need to supply. They are --

  • Column A is where you enter the figures you put on your original return.
  • Column C shows the corrected figures, that is, the amounts that are why you are filing the 1040X.
  • Column B is the difference between Columns A and C.

Form 1040X excerpt

Yes, Form 1040X is a perfect example of why doing your taxes drives you crazy. Instead of A to B to C, on the amended return you go from A to C and then to B.

4. Supply back-up info: There's also an area on the back of the form to explain the specific changes you are making and the reason for each change. Fill it out.

And attach copies of any forms or schedules that are affected by the 1040X changes. This includes any W-2 forms and even 1099s for miscellaneous income if those docs show you had any income tax withheld.

Get ready to wait: If your 1040X will get you some additional refund money, don't go spending it just yet.

The IRS says that it can take up to three weeks from the date you mailed your 1040X for the document's information to show up in the agency's system. Remember, it has to be delivered, opened and then the data entered by an IRS employee into the tax collector's main computer.

Overall, warns the IRS, it can take the agency up to 16 weeks for your amended filing to be processed.

Don't call us … : An anxious taxpayer's natural inclination is to check on his or her amended filing. You can do that, but put your phone down.

"Unfortunately, calling us will not help us process your return more quickly," says the IRS.

Instead, use the agency's online tool Where's My Amended Refund? This option will give you the status of your current year amended return, as well as up to three prior years of 1040X filings.

If you do insist on calling, the IRS wants you to use its dedicated amended return toll-free hotline at 866-464-2050.

You can start checking on the status of your 1040X filing, either by phone or online, three weeks after you mail your amended return.

I know it's a hassle. But filing a 1040X could get you some more tax refund money.

And even if it doesn't, it's always better to make sure you are in good standing with Uncle Sam's tax collector.

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