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6 tax filing Q&A for procrastinators staring down Oct. 15

Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels

Hello, ultimate tax procrastinators. You now have just a week to finish your Form 1040 and get it to the Internal Revenue Service.

A piece of cake for all y'all who push thing to the last minute, right? Ooooh-kaaaay. It's your tax life … and possible tax costs if you mess up anything or, yikes, miss this due date.

But just in case you're open to a little at-the-wire tax filing advice, here are six questions, and some answers from me, to ask yourself in these last seven days until Oct 15.

1. Do you have all your tax material?
By now, every payor of taxable income should have sent you the statements you need to file. Do you remember where you stashed them? Good. Get them out before you sit down to actually fill out your 1040 to make sure you have them all. This tax return filing checklist should help. So will simply looking at your last filing (for the 2019 tax year) to see what you needed then. If you're missing any, you might be able to download them from the payors' websites.

2. Have you decided how to file?
I know, I know, but I had to ask. Most taxpayers file electronically and that's the route to take at this late tax-filing season date. You've probably e-filed for years, so you should be able to pull up your prior filing and have much of the similar info — tax ID numbers for you, your spouse, and other family members; recurring statement basic info, such as your main employer's W-2 data; your bank account for direct deposit purposes — transferred to this year's return.

You also might want to check out Free File official Free File site at It's still operational through the 10/15 extension filing deadline. There are nine tax software companies offering electronic tax preparation and e-filing for filers whose adjusted gross income is $72,000 or less, regardless of filing status. If you make too much to use the online software, look into using Free File's fillable forms, which also is available through Oct. 15.

3. Have you checked out all your potential tax breaks?
The best way to make sure that you, not Uncle Sam, gets your hard-earned cash is to take advantage of all possible tax deductions and tax credits that you qualify for. Too often, taxpayers think deductions are just for those who itemize. Not so. There are income adjustments, most of which are still referred to (by me, at least!) as above-the-line deductions, that reduce the amount of income that's taxed. Most of them are on Schedule 1. A few, like a new charitable deduction, are directly on Form 1040.

And, of course, don't forget about COVID-19 economic relief payments. If you got any of the stimulus money last year, it's not taxable. But if you missed out then, you might be able to claim it as the Recovery Rebate Credit on your 2020 tax return. 

You can find more on these and other tax breaks in the monthly collections of tax tips here at the ol' blog: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, and (so far) October.

4. Have you reviewed the common filing mistakes many taxpayers make?
As I noted at the start of this post, if you've waited this long to file your tax return, chances are you'll put it off until the Very. Last. Minute. I'm not judging, but I do want to warn you to not get in such a final filing rush that you make errors. To guard against that, check out these dozen tax errors that tend to show up filing season after filing season. Knowing them beforehand can keep you from also making these mistakes.

And, shameless plug alert, those monthly tax tips I mention in question #3 also could alert you to more tax missteps you need to avoid.

5. Are you ready to file your state return, too?
For the 2020 tax year, which is the return you're filing now, 43 states and the District of Columbia collect some sort of state (and, in many cases, local) income taxes. The fully no-tax states in 2020 (and going forward) are Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming. They don't tax any individual income at all.

Text image of United States

Tennessee joined that group at the start of 2021, but for 2020 tax year filing purposes, it's collecting tax on certain investments earnings. New Hampshire also doesn't tax wages, but does collect tax interest and dividends.

Most state (and Washington, D.C.) tax systems are based on federal filings. So when you postponed your IRS paperwork, you probably put off your state return, too. Make sure you finish it along with your federal 1040. And check with your state tax office about possible no-cost tax e-filing for these returns, too.

6. Is Oct. 15 really your final tax filing deadline?
Some taxpayers in certain situations get time to file penalty-free beyond the mid-October due date.

This is the case for those serving in a combat zone. Armed forces members and certain civilian support personnel serving in these militarily active areas usually have until at least 180 days after they leave the combat zone to file returns and pay any taxes due.

There's also more time to file for residents of certain disaster areas. There have been plenty of these situations this year. The Oct. 15 deadline has been extended for the following filers:

Suddenly, a week doesn't seem that long, does it? Not to worry. Just take a breath and start now. Or soon.

UPDATE, later on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021: Yes, this is another shameless plug. I just posted at my tumblr tax blog Tumbling Taxes on the impending filing extension deadline.

If you're not familiar with my tumblr items, I mainly use that microblogging platform to highlight videos I find entertaining. This time, it's one for taxpayers racing to the tax filing finish line. Enjoy!






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