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7 tax moves to make this May

Distress lifesaver floatation device mayday call
Feeling adrift as the May 17 tax filing deadline approaches? Here are some tax moves to make this month that could serve as lifelines.

May Day arrived over the weekend, but millions of taxpayers today are sending out filing mayday distress signals. The delayed May 17 Tax Day is just two weeks away.

Two weeks, however, is plenty of time to get your taxes done. Or postpone them — at least the form filing part — for five more months.

Those are the top two tasks on the following list of seven tax moves to make this month. Since time is ticking away, let's get right to them.

1. File your 2020 return. Sure, you had some good reasons to put off completing your tax return. But now time is running out. So get to work on your revised for the 2020 tax year Form 1040 and, where applicable, its three schedules. It's too late to find a tax pro to do this, but tax software still might help. If that's the case, and your adjusted gross income is $72,000 or less, be sure to check out Free File.

2. Get an extension to file. You've already realized that you're just not going to make this month's tax filing deadline. Fine. The Internal Revenue Service understands. It really doesn't want you sending in a sloppy, error-filled tax return either. So file Form 4868 by the April deadline and give yourself six more months to get your tax act together and do it right.

3. Pay any tax you owe. That extension you just filed is great, but it only gives you more time to fill out your tax return forms. If you owe any tax for last year, you need to pay that amount or at least send in a good estimate of it along with your extension request.

I repeat, your payment must be a good estimate. Don't send in an unrealistic amount. If you underpay, the due amount will be subject to penalties and interest that starts accruing the day after your filing deadline.

4. Make 2020 IRA and HSA contributions. This year's extended filing deadline also means you still have time to make 2020 tax year contributions to an IRA, either traditional or Roth, as well as a health savings account (HSA). If your financial situation allows, don't miss this chance to bulk up both of these tax-advantaged or, in the case of Roth IRAs and HSAs, tax-free savings opportunities. You can put more money into them by May 17.

Those more popular accounts, however, aren't the only ones with extended contribution deadlines. You also have until the May tax return due date to put 2020 money into an Archer Medical Savings Account (MSA) or a Coverdell education savings account (ESA).

5. Don't forget your state taxes. Most Americans also must file some type of state tax return. And most of those state (and sometime local, too) tax forms follow the IRS schedule, meaning your state returns likely are also due by May 17.

If you can't get your federal return done by then, chances are you won't complete your state tax forms either since, in most cases, state filings are based on what you report on your federal taxes.

In these cases, check with your state's tax office about getting an extension to file these forms, too. In most cases, you don't have to do anything. Others state tax collectors, though, could require you at least give them notice that you'll be sending in the forms a bit late.

6. Make sure May 17 is your tax deadline. As just noted in May Tax Move #5, not all states are following Uncle Sam's 2021 return filing calendar. And even he has some different deadlines for a few folks.

June 15 is Tax Day this and every year for two groups of taxpayers:

  • Taxpayers outside the country — U.S. citizens and resident aliens who live and work outside the U.S. and Puerto Rico have until June 15, 2021 to file their 2020 tax returns and pay any tax due. The June deadline also applies to members of the military posted outside the U.S. and Puerto Rico and who do not qualify for the longer combat zone extension. Note, though, that while taxpayers abroad get more time to pay, interest (currently at the rate of 3% per year, compounded daily) applies to any payment received after this year's May 17 deadline.
  • Combat zone taxpayers — Military service members and eligible support personnel serving in a combat zone have at least 180 days after they leave the combat zone to file their tax returns and pay any tax due. You can find the complete list of designated combat zone localities (and more on other military tax topics) in IRS Publication 3, Armed Forces' Tax Guide.

Taxpayers in major disaster areas also tend to get more time to tend to tax tasks, including filing their annual returns. That's the case this year for filers five states.

Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana taxpayers who shivered (and worse) through February's historic winter storms don't have to get their tax returns to the IRS until June 15.

Kentucky taxpayers who are dealing with the aftermath of Blue Grass State storms, flooding, and mud- and landslides at the end of February have a tax filing and payment (and more) deadline of June 30.

Alabama residents who were in the path of storms, straight-line winds, and tornadoes that struck in late March have until Aug. 2 to file their 2020 returns and pay any tax due.

Again, don't forget your state filings. In locales where Uncle Sam gives disaster-affected residents more time, state officials usually follow the IRS extended calendar, too. But with all the calendar shuffling this year, it doesn't hurt to double check with your state tax office just to be sure.

7. File your 2017 tax return. You read that date right. If you didn't file your 2017 tax return back in 2018 and were due a refund back then, this is the last chance you'll get to collect that money.

Millions of folks every year somehow overlook filing even when they're due a refund. The IRS wants to send that unclaimed refund amount to you, but you've got to ask. By law, you only have three years to do that. That means you must file a tax year 2017 Form 1040, originally due in 2018, to get that old unclaimed refund by this month's deadline.

If you don't do that by file the fast-approaching May 17, 2021, due date, the U.S. Treasury gets to keep your money. Forever.

May_tax_moves_160More tax tasks: If you haven't even started on May Tax Move #1 yet — No judging here. Everyone's life is still COVID, tax and otherwise, crazy. — this checklist can help you get the 2020 tax return filing process going.

It highlights the necessary tax statements you'll need to fill out the IRS forms, as well as notes some key filing questions you need to answer to ensure you don't overlook any tax breaks.

You'll also find some more May Tax Moves over in the ol' blog's right column. Just scroll down a bit. The list starts under the digital clock counting down the now very rapid approach of Tax Day 2021. (Yeah, I know physics says time doesn't speed up as days go by, but I just can't convince my brain of that as the filing deadline nears every year.)

If you can meet the May 17 deadline, good for you.

If you can't, no worries, tears, or cursing. OK, some cursing; it is tax season, after all. Just get an extension and do your taxes when you're truly ready, as long as that's by Oct. 15.






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