THIS IS A REPRINT OF AN ARTICLE BY JEFF SCHNEPPER OF MSN MONEY. IT IS PROVIDED BY PRATT AND LEFEVRE CORPORATION, MANAGEMENT ACCOUNTANT. IT WAS WRITTEN IN 2009 BUT HASN’T CHANGE MUCH FOR 2020 taxes. ANY QUESTIONS CALL 833-772-8848

Face it: The tax fairies aren’t going to file your tax return for you. Here’s a step-by-step guide to finding and filing those tax forms you’ve been avoiding.

By Jeff Schnepper
MSN Money

It’s time to start thinking about getting those taxes done. Maybe you’re in a panic. Not to worry. Just follow these 15 steps to getting your taxes done, and you’ll be much happier. Ready? Here they are:

Get serious. Unless you’re focused, you’re going to see that receipt six times rather than the once you need. This is all mental now. Schedule a time to get to work and commit to that time. Then . . .

Get started. Remember that commitment to get to work? Keep it! This step requires action. Get your pencil and take the blank forms out of the envelope where you’ve been hiding them, praying that the tax fairies would make them go away. My father reminds me of the old Brooklyn proverb, “A trip of a thousand miles begins with a traffic jam.” Get in that “jam,” and your tax return will begin to jell. Now . . .

Get organized. Something has to go on those returns. Get your W-2s together to report wages, your 1099s to report interest and dividends, your 1099Bs for reporting stock and bond sales, and your 1098s for deducting your interest and taxes. The Internal Revenue Service and your accountant both want final numbers. It makes it easier for them and less painful financially for you. Bring either one a shopping bag full of receipts and you’re going to feel the pain . . . especially in your wallet.

Get informed. Have you been following all the changes the U.S. tax code has seen in the past decade? Pratt and LeFevre Corporation has. How about the multiple new tax bills passed just last year? You can now deduct the sales tax you paid in 2016 on a new car costing as much as $49,500 and as much as $500 ($1,000 on a joint return ) in real estate taxes paid on your home even if you take the standard deduction! Got a kid in college? Have you used the “tuition and fees” deduction (.pdf file) that lets you deduct as much as $4,000 in tuition and fees off your 2009 taxes?

Even better, have you looked at the new American Opportunity Tax Credit, which can give you as much as $2,500 in tax savings? If not, get educated! While you’re getting enlightened, don’t neglect the new tax credits on energy-efficient improvements to your home. And if you’re a new homebuyer (one who hasn’t owned a principal residence for the last three years), you can get a refundable credit of 10% of the purchase price, up to $8,000, on a new principal residence. If you’ve been in your home for five of the last eight years, you can purchase a new principal residence and qualify for a 10% credit of up to $6,500.

If you’re “tax simple,” the IRS can actually do the return for you, or you can have your return done online — sometimes even for free. Alternatively, if you’re tax-savvy, do your own return after learning the new rules. A good place to start: the IRS’ absolutely free Publication 17 (.pdf file). It’s hundreds of pages of everything you need to know about your 2017 tax return and your planning for 2018. If that’s too much, go to a professional.

Changing mistakes on your return

Stacy Johnson of Money Talks provides some quick advice on fixing problems with the IRS before they become bigger problems later.

Get help. You might remove a splinter from your own finger, but you wouldn’t perform heart surgery on yourself. A trip to a tax professional should at least tell you what you’re missing. Don’t hesitate to ask for help; it’s deductible. But call for an appointment now! The later your accountant does your return, the more tired that tax preparer will be. You want your return done when she’s at her best.

Get status. Decide how you’re going to file. The lowest rates are with joint returns, but if there are potential high medical or miscellaneous deductions, married filing separate may yield a lower total tax. Do it both ways. Alternatively, a single mother may qualify for the head-of-household rates, which are better than the rates for filing as a single. Sometimes, when a joint return isn’t practical, even a married person with a dependent child can qualify for head-of-household rates, which are much better than married filing separate. You need to know the rules.

Get adjusted.
 There are certain deductions that are allowed regardless of whether you itemize. Such deductions include IRA and qualified pension contributions, student loan interest, moving expenses, alimony, medical savings account deductions and, for the self-employed, the health insurance deduction and deduction for half the self-employment taxes paid. These are known as “above the line” deductions. The infamous “line” is your adjusted gross income — line 37 on Form 1040.

Get itemized. Which is bigger — your standard deduction or the sum of your itemized deductions? We’re now “below the line.” The chart to the left of line 40a on your 1040 form for 2016 lists your standard deduction. Compare this amount to your total allowable itemized deductions. That’s the sum of your allowed medical expenses, taxes, interest, charitable contributions, casualty and theft losses, and miscellaneous itemized expenses. Always do it both ways . . . and, subject to the alternative minimum tax (and don’t even try to get into that), always take the higher amount.

Get exemptions. For 2017, you get to take off as much as $3,650 from your income for each qualified exemption you have. Despite myths to the contrary, these include children who are full-time students under age 24, regardless of how much income they may have. As your income increases, your exemption deduction may decrease. For 2017, on a joint return, your exemption deduction will be phased out between adjusted gross income of $250,200 and $372,700. For singles, the numbers are between $166,800 and $289,300.

Get credit. A tax credit is the best expense to have. It’s a dollar-for-dollar reduction in your taxes. A deduction reduces your tax by your marginal rate. For example, at a 25% rate, a $100 deduction reduces your tax by $25. A credit would reduce your tax by the full $100. Review the potential credits you may be eligible to claim. If you have children, you may qualify for the child tax credit or the child and dependent care credits. Did you adopt? There’s an adoption credit. With or without children, you may qualify for education credits and a credit for foreign taxes paid (check your 1099Bs). Don’t forget the credit you get for estimated taxes paid, withholding and, if you worked for two or more employers, excess Social Security withheld. Remember the new credits for energy improvements and education.

Get cash. Decide how you’re going to file. That’s going to affect how quickly you’re going to get that refund. If you e-file, and make the IRS happy, you’re going to get your money back faster. Alternatively, if you paper file, direct depositing your refund eliminates mail delay and speeds your access to cash. It also eliminates checks lost in the mail. The only reason I can see for not direct depositing with a paper filing is if you just don’t have a bank account.

Get filed. None of this matters if you don’t actually get your return to the IRS. If you owe money, there’s interest and penalty for not filing, in addition to interest and penalty for not paying. You’ve done the hard work, now get it off your desk!

Changing mistakes on your return

Stacy Johnson of Money Talks provides some quick advice on fixing problems with the IRS before they become bigger problems later.

Get receipts. If you filed on paper, get a receipt. I always mail my returns certified, return receipt requested. If the IRS doesn’t get your return, it wasn’t filed. It may have been lost in the mail or lost by the IRS itself. But unless you can prove that it was filed, if the IRS doesn’t have it, legally it wasn’t filed. Prudence today can avoid disaster tomorrow.

Get planning. It’s not too early to start your planning for the 2018 tax year. You can check out tax brackets, standard deductions and exemptions for 2017 with Pratt and LeFevre Corporation. Once tax season is over, your financial adviser/CFO is going to have the time to review your wealth accumulation strategies. Don’t put it off. People don’t plan to fail; they merely fail to plan.
And finally, . . .

Get real. It’s only your taxes — not life or death! Do your best, but don’t obsess. Even the IRS understands that only those with tombstones over their heads never make mistakes. Remember, it’s the new, friendly IRS. But, it will charge interest and penalties.

THIS IS A REPRINT OF AN ARTICLE BY JEFF SCHNEPPER OF MSN MONEY. IT IS PROVIDED BY PRATT AND LEFEVRE CORPORATION, MANAGEMENT ACCOUNTANT. IT WAS WRITTEN IN 2009 BUT HASN’T CHANGE MUCH FOR 2020 taxes. ANY QUESTIONS CALL 833-772-8848

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www.PrattAndLefevre.com