published Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Winsett: Top tax filing tip: use free e-filing

Jim Winsett

Q: What guidelines does the Better Business Bureau have for preparing to file income taxes?

A: With April 17 approaching, it is time to start the tax filing process that we all know and love. This tax season, if you are planning to get assistance from a tax preparer or even if you are planning to do the legwork yourself, Better Business Bureau and the Internal Revenue Service recommend following these top 10 tax filing tips.

  1. Start gathering your records: Round up any documents or forms you will need when filing your taxes: receipts, canceled checks and other documents that support income or deductions you are claiming on your return.

  2. Be on the lookout: W-2s and 1099s should have arrived by now and you will need these to file your tax return.

  3. Use Free File: Let Free File, www.irs.gov, do the hard work for you with brand-name tax software or online, with fill-in forms. Everyone can find an option to prepare their tax return and e-file it for free.

If you made $57,000 or less, you qualify for free tax software that is offered through a private-public partnership with manufacturers. If you made more or are comfortable preparing your own tax return, there is Free File Fill-in forms, the electronic versions of IRS paper forms, at www.irs.gov/freefile.

  1. Try IRS e-file: After 22 years, IRS e-file has become the safe, easy and most common way to file a tax return. According to the IRS, 77 percent of taxpayers used www.irs.gov/efile last year. IRS e-file is approaching 1 billion returns processed safely and securely. If you owe taxes, you have payment options to file immediately and pay by the tax deadline. Best of all, combine e-file with direct deposit and you get your refund in as few as 10 days.

  2. Consider other filing options: There are many different options for filing your tax return. You can prepare it yourself or go to a tax preparer. You may be eligible for free face-to-face help at an IRS office or volunteer site. Give yourself time to weigh all the different options and find the one that best suits your needs.

  3. Consider direct deposit: If you elect to have your refund directly deposited into your bank account, you will receive it more quickly than waiting for a paper check.

  4. Visit the IRS website again and again: The official IRS website, www.irs.gov, is a great place to find everything you will need to file your tax return: forms, publications, tips, answers to frequently asked questions and updates on tax law changes for year 2011.

  5. Remember this number: 17: Check out IRS Publication 17, it is a comprehensive collection of information for taxpayers highlighting everything you need to know when filing your return.

  6. Review! Review! Review! Do not rush. Be sure to double-check all the Social Security Numbers and math calculations on your return as these are the most common errors made by taxpayers.

  7. Do not panic! If you run into a problem, remember the IRS is here to help. Try www.irs.gov or call toll-free at 1-800-829-1040.

Remember, when seeking the assistance of a tax preparer, always get referrals from friends and family on who they use and check the BBB Business Review on tax preparation services at www.bbb.org.

Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN, 37401-1447, or by e-mailing him at dflessner@ timesfreepress.com

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