Ah, mid-April, when the tulips are striving heavenward and the birds are singing and the IRS is waiting. Welcome to the last few nerve-wracking days before Tax Day.
Marian Jacobs*, a tax advisor with H & R Block in Orland Park, Illinois offered this advice for those who haven’t filed their taxes yet:
“Patience!” said Jacobs. ”And make your appointment as quickly as you can.”
If you haven’t filed your taxes yet, take a deep breath and continue reading.
1) Don’t Panic.
This year, the IRS has extended the federal tax deadline from April 15th to midnight on April 18th.
Some states have due dates for state returns even later:
Hawaii: April 20
Maine and Massachusetts: April 19
Delaware and Iowa: April 30
Virginia: May 2
2) Gather Your Documents.
Missing documents, Jacobs said, are the most common delay. Even paid tax professionals can’t work an IRS miracle without the proper documents.
You'll need W-2s from your employer, savings and investment documents, as well as receipts for any charitable donations you’ve made.
For a complete list, see this Tax Prep List.
3) Get your tax forms.
This years — and last year’s, Dear Procrastinator—are available at IRS.gov. Most post offices and many libraries also carry them.
4) Don’t miss these commonly forgotten deductions:
Child Care - You’ll need the identifying number for your provider.
Investment Expenses - If you have sold stock, have the basis. The basis is the purchase price plus commissions or other expenses.
Charitable Donations - Have receipts from donated goods, and copies of checks for cash donations.
Work-related Expenses - These are any not paid or reimbursed by your employer.
The American Opportunity Credit (AOTC)- With the AOTC, those married filing jointly and earning up to $160,000 can claim an education deduction of four years per child.
Medical Deductions - According to the IRS, “you may deduct only the amount by which your total qualified medical expenses exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI), or 7.5 percent, if you or your spouse is 65 or older.”
Retired people and people on Medicare can often take a medical deduction. “Medical is deductible: your insurance, your health insurance if you paid out of pocket, anything you paid out of pocket for dental or vision and any copays,” Jacobs said.
Working people under 65 cannot take a deduction on their health insurance premiums which are usually paid with pre-tax money, but they can take the deduction if their other medical costs exceed 10 percent of their income.
Deductible expenses include acupuncture, nursing home care, psychiatric care, insulin, transportation that is essential to receiving medical care, contact lenses and prescription glasses, hearing aids, false teeth and service dogs for the blind or deaf. (4) An exhaustive list can be found on the IRS website.
Sales tax - If you’ve purchased a big-ticket item such as a car or boat or if you’ve done a large remodel, you may be able to deduct the sales tax.
“Take the sales tax from those items and add them to the default,” Jacobs advised. “Even in states without an income tax, retired people can take a default on sales tax.”
“One of the biggest items I find that people forget,” Jacobs said, “is that they forget to take the sales tax deduction. They only decided it could be deductible last December, but the IRS made it retroactive to January 1st 2015.”
Jacobs clarified, “But you have to understand it’s either sales tax or local income tax, whichever is higher. This is a real benefit for retired people who don’t have income.”
For a complete list of tax credits and deductions available to individuals, click here. And check out the Sales Tax Deduction Calculator at IRS.gov.
5) Last-minute professional help is available.
Most tax preparation agencies such as H & R Block have extended hours these last few panicked days before April 18.
6) Can’t afford to pay a professional?
The IRS has a soft side — the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. If you make $54,000 or less or have disabilities and limited English fluency, an IRS-certified volunteer can help. Search IRS.gov for volunteers in your area.
7) If all else fails, file an extension.
You’ll need form 4868, and you can file it online. If you aren’t getting your taxes in on time, filing an extension can spare you from paying penalties and give you an extra six months to get your house in order.
But even extensions have deadlines. They are due on tax day. And the IRS is no pushover— if you owe taxes this year, payment is still due by the original deadline. If you don't pay the amount due by the original date, interest will be added, and you may be charged penalties.
8) Do taxes burn you up?
If your tax bill stings, take a moment to reflect on where the money goes. Federal taxes go to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the social safety net that keeps the poor housed and their children fed, roads and bridges and national defense. Local taxes pay firefighters and police.
According to this Forbes article, another 110 billion of our tax dollars go to corporate welfare.
Not happy with these numbers? There’s an opportunity to tell the government how you’d like your money spent. It’s called voting.
*Full disclosure: Marian Jacobs is the writer’s mother-in-law.
Reviewed April 11, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
2) Interview with Marianne Jacobs from H & R Block. April 3, 2016.
3) Where Is The Outrage Over Corporate Welfare? forbes.com. Retrieved April 8, 2016.
4) Topic 502 - Medical and Dental Expenses. IRS.gov. Retrieved April 9, 2016.