10 Tax Tips for Filing Your 2012 Federal Tax Return from the American Institute of CPAs

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Questions and answers from the American Institute of CPAs to help make sure you pay no more taxes than you should

Tax season is here again. While individual tax returns are not due until Monday, April 15, even with that final weekend to get the work done, America’s CPAs remind taxpayers that getting an early start will make filing easier and the process smoother.

Here are 10 questions and answers from the American Institute of CPAs to help make sure you pay no more taxes than you should and to give you peace of mind that you’ve done everything required.

Q. Do I need to file a federal tax return?
A. It depends on several factors, so check the rules. You may be required to file a federal tax return because of the amount or type of income you received. Or, it may be in your benefit to file so you can receive a refund because you had too much income tax withheld or because you are eligible for a refundable tax credit.

Q. How do I get ready to file my tax return?
A. Gather your W-2s and 1099s. The simplest thing to do is also the most important: Keep the W-2 and 1099 forms you receive where you won’t lose them and where you can easily find them. You can’t complete or file your returns without them.

Q. What else do I need to do?
A. Collect your other records: Round up all of the receipts, canceled checks and other documents that support the income, deductions, and credits you’ll be reporting or claiming on your return. This is especially important for taxpayers who keep their paperwork in the proverbial “shoe box.” Whether you prepare your return yourself or work with a Certified Public Accountant, the better shape your records are in the more likely you will be paying only what you owe. More tips to get started preparing your tax return are available on the AICPA’s 360 Degrees of Taxes website.

Q. When is my federal tax return due this year?
A. April 15, the usual date. Your 2012 federal tax return must be filed by midnight Monday, April 15. Most states follow the federal filing deadline, but some do not. Check your state’s rules to be sure you know what the deadline is in your state.

Q. How do I know if I can take some tax breaks?
A. Learn if you qualify: Many taxpayers don’t think about the credits and deductions that may apply to them and often pay more tax than they need to pay because of it. These provisions include the earned income tax credit, the child tax credit, the American opportunity credit and the adoption credit, among many other types of deductions and credits. Check with your local CPA or the official IRS website to see if you qualify.

Q. What are some deductions I might be able to take?
A. Take time to study the Form 1040 instructions so you can take advantage of everything the tax code allows: Congress and the White House agreed to a number of changes as part of the “fiscal cliff” deal that went into effect on January 1, 2013. Other provisions were allowed to expire. Some common itemized deductions available for 2012 federal tax returns are for mortgage interest, charitable contributions, and certain expenses related to job searches. Those taxpayers who do not itemize can use the standard deduction. Review some tax savings strategies on the AICPA’s 360 Degrees of Taxes website.

Q. How should I prepare and file my tax return?
A. Consider all your filing options: There are many different ways you can complete and file your tax return. You can prepare it yourself or go to a professional tax return preparer. You may also be eligible for free face-to-face help at an IRS office. And e-filing will make that last-minute dash to the post office unnecessary. If you are using tax preparation software, it will guide you through how to file electronically. Don’t wait to the last minute; give yourself time to weigh all the different options and find the one that best suits your needs.

Q. What should I do if I don’t understand something?
A. You’re not alone. Regardless of whether they’re basic or advanced, you need and deserve answers to the almost inevitable questions you’re going to have about what you owe, how you complete your forms and how you file. The official IRS website is a great place to find answers to the standard questions. And your local CPA can help you determine how the law applies to your specific situation. The AICPA’s 360 Degrees of Taxes website includes an Ask a CPA feature. The worst thing to do is to not ask.

Q. What is the fastest way to get a refund?
A. Direct deposit: If you choose to have your refund directly deposited into your bank account, you’ll receive it considerably faster than a paper check.

Q. What can I do to speed up processing my tax return?
A. Review! The most common mistakes made by taxpayers – incorrect Social Security numbers and bad math calculations – slow down the refund process considerably. The good news is that they’re also the easiest to correct if you take the time to check your return before it’s filed.

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Shirley Twillman
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