Last-minute tax tips for late filers

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


If you're waiting until the absolute last moment to file your taxes, you're not alone — and you're not out of luck.

As of the last tally, the Internal Revenue Service has received 103 million of the 155 million total returns the agency expects this year. (In fact, 20 to 25 percent of Americans wait until the last 14 days before the deadline to prepare their tax returns.)

But there is still time before Tax Day on April 17 to nail down everything you need — and take advantage of certain tax breaks before it's too late.

So for all you 11th-hour filers, here are seven tips from Lisa Greene-Lewis, a certified public accountant and tax expert at TurboTax, for meeting the filing deadline without worry.

  1. Get the right forms. When you sit down to file your taxes, make sure you have all the necessary documents in front of you — including W-2s and 1099s as well as receipts for expenses, mortgage interest, bank routing information and your family's Social Security numbers.
  2. Give yourself a deadline. Of course, there's a hard cutoff courtesy of Uncle Sam (that would be Tuesday, April 17). But you can do yourself a huge favor by aiming to get everything done at least a day or two in advance, Greene-Lewis said. That small buffer will ensure you don't have to hurry through the paperwork and stress about missing something. Also, you will avoid the Tax Day frenzy — and get your tax refund faster.
  3. The devil is in the details. Some of the most common mistakes taxpayers make when rushing to meet the deadline include putting down an incorrect Social Security number for a child or spouse, or forgetting to simply sign a paper return. So slow down when it comes to entering in your information.
  4. Don't forget what you did last year. Use your return from last year as a cheat sheet. This is especially helpful if you are on the margin between taking the standard deduction and itemizing, which could lower your tax liability.

    To see whether itemizing makes sense, add up your individual deductions, including unreimbursed employee expenses, job search expenses and charitable contributions. (Keep in mind that some, like medical expenses and miscellaneous itemized deductions, have their own thresholds to be deductible.) Then check if the total exceeds the standard deduction for 2017, which is $6,350 for single filers and $12,700 for married couples filing jointly.
  5. If you're self-employed, make estimated tax payments. If you're working in the gig economy or as a freelancer, you're allowed to take advantage of business expense deductions that you may not be eligible for as a W-2 employee, such as start-up costs, computers, car expenses and so on, according to Greene-Lewis.

    But you have to make quarterly tax payments using Form 1040-ES if you expect to owe more than $1,000. The first payment for tax year 2018 is due April 17.
  6. E-file with direct deposit. If you expect to receive a refund this year, choosing to e-file with direct deposit will get you access to your money faster. Just be sure that the bank routing and account numbers entered on the return are accurate. Incorrect numbers can cause a refund to be delayed or worse — deposited into the wrong account.
  7. If you need more time, get an extension. For taxpayers who just can't meet the April deadline, requesting an extension will prevent steep late-filing penalties, Greene-Lewis said. You can use the IRS Free File to request an extension electronically or submit a paper Form 4868. But keep in mind that while an extension grants additional time to file, tax payments are still due on April 17.