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Some last-minute tips for tax filers in 2013

Take some time to flesh out your tax returns with some last-minute tips from savvy tax specialists.

Brian O'Connell
by Brian O'Connell, MainStreet contributor

NEW YORK — The clock is ticking for millions of U.S. taxpayers working toward the IRS deadline for filing their taxes, April 15.

Why not take that time to flesh out your tax returns with some last-minute tips from some of the savviest tax specialists in the U.S.?

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For example, you can have your tax refund popped directly onto a prepaid debit card. H&R Block offers that service (for a small fee) using MasterCard’s Emerald Card.

Here are some other last-minute tips from our experts:

Use a debit card to pay your taxes. MasterCard says that paying with a debit card offers convenience and security with some of the lowest flat fees ever offered by payment processors. For example, this year, PayUSAtax.com is charging a flat fee of $3.49, while Pay1040.com is charging only $2.99. The money savings are clear, since the costs associated with mailing checks (certified mail fee, cashier bank check fee, etc.) add up quickly.

Use your tablet computer. When it comes to doing your taxes, it’s always “safety first.” The security experts at F-Secure, a San Jose, Calif., software security firm, notes that 87 percent of Americans will file their taxes electronically. That means about 75 million people are vulnerable to online identity theft.

That’s why F-Secure advises doing your taxes using a tablet-specific software program (Turbo Tax and H&R Block are among those offering them.) The firm says that I.D. hackers view tablet computers as a challenge relative to mobile phones and laptop computers. They’re easier to handle, allow for more room for working with receipts and generally are more reliable (especially compared with smartphones, the firm said).

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Leverage your IRA. Riverwoods, Ill., accounting firm CCH Group says you can “beat the clock” by taking advantage of last-minute tax savings. Taxpayers can reduce their taxable income by as much as $5,000 or $6,000 if a taxpayer is 50 or older and meets income requirements, the firm says. Taxpayers have until April 15 to contribute to their 2012 IRA.

Focus on the small stuff. It adds up. Mary Kay Foss, a CPA from Danville, Calif., says that part of most states’ auto registration is a personal property tax. Examine your bill and deduct the tax portion, she says.

Focus on your charitable work. “You need to have a written receipt from charities if you gave more than $250 on one day,” Foss says. “The letter is supposed to be in your possession on the day that you file the return, so contact the charities to get your paperwork in order.”

“In addition, if you volunteered for charity (like a board position, or as chair of a fundraising event), you can deduct your out-of-pocket expenses for volunteering,” she adds. “Make a note of the miles driven for charity and little items you may have purchased. The $250 rule applies here, so if you bought something large for the charity, you need a written receipt”

Don’t rush. Michael Rozbruch, founder and CEO of Tax Resolutions, says there are common mistakes that can trip up tax filers.

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"Typical mistakes that are made when people are rushing to get their taxes done,” Rozbruch says. “The largest mistake is that the return isn't signed. Many people forget to sign the return and pop it in mailbox with the money. As far as the IRS is concerned, you haven't filed even though you paid. You will receive a late penalty for not signing.”

“The second-biggest mistake to avoid are arithmetic errors,” he adds. “This will cause the computer reading the tax return to stop on a line item audit. Especially is the return is illegible. Another simple mistake to avoid is the transposition of Social Security numbers — this happens when there is a large family with a lot of members. That will kick out an audit letter from the IRS as well.”

 

Brian O’Connell has 15 years of experience covering business news and trends, particularly in the financial, health care and career management sectors. He has written 14 books and appeared on CNN, Fox News, CNBC, C-Span, Bloomberg, CBS Radio and other media outlets and in such publications as The Wall Street Journal and The Street.com. He is a former Wall Street bond trader.