We're exactly one week away from Oct. 15, the day you must finally file your 2019 tax return that you extended earlier this year.
Don't miss it. After next Thursday, there's no more time. And the IRS will start adding penalties and interest to any tax you might discover at this late date that you owe.
Here are 8 tips and reminders to help you finish filling out that Form 1040 during these next seven days and get it on its way to the Internal Revenue Service by the deadline.
1. Gather all your tax material.
OK, time to find all those tax documents that showed up in your email and snail mail boxes earlier this year. Double check those documents. Now. There's no give beyond Oct. 15 so you need to make sure you have the forms, receipts and such in hand before you start working on your Form 1040 and its three associated schedules. This filing checklist can help.
2. Make the most of tax breaks.
Regardless of how you do your taxes, you'll want to make sure you don't short yourself when it comes to tax savings by overlooking some tax breaks for which you qualify. Lots of filers miss these 10 often overlooked tax breaks. There are even more tax saving possibilities in the above-the-line deductions (yes, I'm still calling them that) which are now found on Schedule 1. These 22 tax breaks can be claims by qualifying filers regardless of whether they claim the standard deduction or itemize.
3. Aim for error-free.
If you've waited this long to file, chances are you'll procrastinate until the very last minute. I'm not judging, but I feel compelled to warn you not get in such a final filing rush that you make some common tax-filing mistakes. So even though time is running short, take extra care when finishing up your Form 1040.
4. Go electronic, possibly for free.
Tax e-filing is automatic for most taxpayers nowadays. The IRS says that blah-di-dah. Not only does e-filing tend to be easier for taxpayers (it does the math for us!), but it also makes the tax agency (no sloppy handwritten entries to renter into IRS computers!). Another advantage of using tax software is that it will walk you through most of the tax breaks just mentioned in #2 and help you sidestep most of the mistakes, also just noted in #3.
You can e-file via commercial tax software you use online or buy yourself and load onto your computer. Or, if your adjusted gross income is $69,000 or less, regardless of filing status, check out IRS' Free File. This option, provided on the IRS website via the agency's partnership with Free File Inc. tax software company members, is still available through the Oct. 15 deadline. 10 companies are participating this filing season.
With e-filing, be it via tax software on your computer or via the more popular this year Free File, you have until the very last minute to hit send on your computer keyboard, although I suggest you not wait that late just in case there are technical issues on your or the software's or the IRS' part.
If, however, you're still a tax traditionalist and prefer filling out your return by hand on actual paper forms, check out these snail mail tips to get your extended filing to the IRS on time.
5. Pay electronically.
When you filed Form 8868 to get six extra months to submit your return, you paid a good guesstimate of any tax you expected to owe. However, if you find you owe more when you do finally and fully fill out your Form 1040, pay it electronically. You can check out your e-pay options in my earlier post on ways to pay Uncle Sam at tax time.
As with e-filing, the main reason to e-pay is that it's quicker. That's important if you short-changed Uncle Sam in July. You now need to get any due tax to the U.S. Treasury ASAP so interest and penalties will stop accruing.
6. Direct deposit your refund.
Yes, even folks who are getting refunds sometimes put off their filing to the absolute last minute. Go figure. But once they finally finish their taxes, the fastest way to get the money they've left sitting interest-free in the Bank of Uncle Sam for months is to have it delivered by direct deposit.
7. Make sure Oct. 15 is your deadline.
Some taxpayers, both individual filers and businesses, in certain situations get time to file penalty-free beyond the mid-October due date. Unfortunately, the situations that allow this added time are far from ideal.
Members of the military serving in combat zones can get an extra 180 days from their last day in those dangerous areas to file their tax returns. You can get more information at the IRS web page on combat zone service extended deadlines and IRS Publication 3, Armed Forces Guide to Taxes.
People who've been through a major disaster also usually are provided extra time to file. That's the case now for individuals and business owners in the wakes of:
- Iowa derecho — extended returns due by Dec. 15
- California wildfires (August) — extended returns due by Dec. 15
- Louisiana areas hit by Hurricane Laura — extended returns due by Dec. 31
- Oregon wildfires — extended returns due Jan. 15, 2021
- Alabama areas hit by Hurricane Sally — extended returns due Jan. 15, 2021
- California wildfires (September) — extended returns due Jan. 15, 2021
Taxpayers affected by natural disasters can find more in IRS Publication 547, the IRS web page Tax Relief in Disaster Situations special web page (click on the 2020 link for latest disaster/tax news) and, shameless plug alert, the ol' blog's special Storm Warnings collection.
8. Don't forget your state taxes.
There are only seven states that don't collect any time of individual tax. That means that most U.S. taxpayers live in one of the other 43 or the District of Columbia and have to file a tax returns with those jurisdictions every year.
Most state (and Washington, D.C.) tax systems are based on federal filings. That's why in this coronavirus-affected 2020 filing season, your regular state filing deadline (in most jurisdictions) followed the federal lead and also pushed state tax filings to mid-July, too. And if back then you postponed your IRS paperwork filing, then you probably also put off filing of your state return.
Double check with your state tax department now and make sure Oct. 15 is the due date for your state return. And then finish that filing on time, along with your federal 1040.
Added tips: Long-time readers of the ol' blog have already figured out that many of the links in this post have been culled from previously posted 2020 Filing Season Tax Tips. These tax tidbits are featured in the upper corner of the page. After their day in the tax blog sun, they then go into their own special monthly collections.
You also might want to check out the Tax Form Tuesday page. It's a collection of posts that take a closer look at some of the most commonly used IRS forms.
I know this seems like a lot. OK. It is a lot. But you still have a week to get your taxes done. Go for it and good — and on time — final tax filing luck.