Tips for Filing your Tax Return

Don’t let the upcoming tax season fill you with dread. With a little preparation, you can learn to navigate the tax return preparation maze with confidence. To get you started, here are the basics of what you need to know when filing your tax return:

There are two ways in which to file your tax return, by IRS e-file or by mailing a paper return to the IRS.

Electronic Filing

IRS e-file is the electronic transmission of your tax return to the IRS. As a result, the processing of IRS e-file returns is more accurate than the processing of paper returns. You must have a valid Social Security number for every person included on the return to qualify for electronic filing.

If you e-file, your return is considered filed on time if the authorized electronic return transmitter postmarks the transmission by the due date. The electronic postmark is a record of when the authorized electronic return transmitter received the transmission of your electronically filed return on its host system. The date and time in your time zone controls whether the electronically filed return is timely.

Paper Returns

If you do not e-file your tax return, you can mail your return in the envelope provided with your tax form package. If you do not have an addressed envelope or you moved during the year, mail your return to the appropriate Internal Revenue Service Center listed for your state in your IRS tax form package.

Your paper return is filed on time if it is mailed in an envelope that is properly addressed and postmarked by the due date. If you send your return by registered mail, the date of the registration is the postmark date. The registration is evidence that the return was delivered. If you send a return by certified mail and have your receipt postmarked by a postal employee, the date on the receipt is the postmark date. The postmarked certified mail receipt is evidence that the return was delivered.

If you use a private delivery service designated by the IRS to send your return, the postmark date generally is the date the private delivery service records in its database or marks on the mailing label. The private delivery service can tell you how to obtain written proof of this date. IRS designated private delivery services are listed below:

* Airborne Express (Airborne): Overnight Air Express Service, Next Afternoon Service, and Second Day Service

* DHL Worldwide Express (DHL): DHL Same Day Service and DHL USA Overnight

* Federal Express (FedEx): FedEx Priority Overnight, FedEx Standard Overnight, FedEx 2Day, FedEx International Priority, and FedEx International First

* United Parcel Service (UPS): UPS Next Day Air, UPS Next Day Air Saver, UPS 2nd Day Air, UPS 2nd Day Air A.M., UPS Worldwide Express Plus, and UPS Worldwide Express

Filing Late

If you do not file your return by the due date, you may be subject to a failure-to-file penalty and interest. To avoid penalties and interest, file for an extension by before this date. If you were due a refund, but you did not file a return, you must file within three years from the date the return was originally due to obtain that refund.

Filing an Extension

When you file an extension, you can postpone filing your return until October 15. However, if you do not pay any tax owed by the due date, you will accrue penalty and interest charges. Complete Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, to file for a six-month extension. If you estimate that you have a balance due, include this payment with the form.

For example, James and Sally Gaylord are married and file a joint return. Their home was damaged by a tornado and they have contacted their investment company to resend them Forms 1099 so they can file their tax return. It does not appear that they will have this information by April 17, so they decide to ask for an extension by filing Form 4868. James and Sally estimate that their total tax liability for 2006 will be $1,843. Their Forms W-2 indicate that a total of $1,215 of federal income tax has been withheld. To avoid late payment penalty and interest, James and Sally must pay $628 with their Form 4868.

E-filing Extensions

The IRS offers e-filing of extension applications. The IRS will process Form 4868 through the original due date of your tax return. By filing an extension, you postpone the filing date of your return until October 15; however, any tax due on the return will be subject to interest and penalties if not paid by the due date.

Installment Agreement

If you are not in bankruptcy and have a balance due, but cannot pay your full tax liability by the due date, you should consider the IRS installment plan. To request an installment agreement, complete Form 9465, Installment Agreement Request, and attach it to the front of your tax return or include it with an e-filed return. You can also request an Installment Agreement after you file your tax return by filing Form 9465 by itself to the address shown in the form instructions or by e-filing Form 9465 by itself. If the IRS approves the request, you will be charged a fee and interest on any unpaid balance. The fee has been increased in 2007 to $52 for agreements to pay direct debit and to $105 for all others. Although you generally may have up to 60 months to pay, you should make the payments large enough so that the balance due will be paid off by the due date of your next return. Before requesting an Installment Agreement, you should consider less costly alternatives, such as a bank loan.

Record Keeping

It is a good idea to keep your previous tax returns, as well as other important documents that have affected your income and deductions, for at least three years. If you need a copy of a prior- year return, you can obtain it for a fee from the IRS by filing Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return. This can take up to 60 calendar days.

Change of Address

Are you planning a move before the end of the year? The IRS has an official change-of- address form, Form 8822, Change of Address. If you complete and mail this form to the appropriate IRS Service Center, you should receive your tax booklet at your new address.

For more tax tips and information on tax preparation, please visit the Tax Resource Center at

About the Author

R.L. Fielding has been a freelance writer for 10 years, offering her expertise and skills to a variety of major organizations in the education, pharmaceuticals and healthcare, financial services, and manufacturing industries. She lives in New Jersey with her dog and two cats and enjoys rock climbing and ornamental gardening.

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