Rev up the calculator and start your countdown: The annual tax-filing deadline is less than a month away.
But if that's anxiety-inducing, take heart: Because of a federal holiday, everyone gets two extra days -- until April 17 -- to file state and federal taxes.
With crunch time getting closer, here are some tips from the friendly folks at the Internal Revenue Service:
-- 1. Don't procrastinate. Resist the temptation to avoid your taxes until the last minute. If you're rushing to meet the tax-filing deadline, it's easy to overlook potential savings and your risk of making an error goes up.
-- 2. Visit the IRS website. Go to "1040 Central" on the IRS website (www.irs.gov)for questions on e-filing, tax credits, scam alerts, how to choose a tax preparer and other topics.
-- 3. Use e-filing.
Last year, about 80 percent of U.S. taxpayers filed their state and federal tax returns online.
The IRS offers "Free File" options that are no-cost to those making below $57,000. Those with higher incomes who are comfortable preparing their own tax returns can use "Free File Fillable Forms," which are electronic versions of IRS paper forms.
-- 4. Get an extension. If you can't fill out your IRS paperwork on time, you can file to get an automatic six-month IRS extension through Oct. 15. However, you still must pay at least 90 percent of what you owe or be subject to late-payment penalties.
-- 5. Don't panic. If you can't pay the full amount of taxes owed by the April deadline, consider partial payments. The IRS lets taxpayers set up installment plans, which charge interest but can help you avoid penalties for nonpayment.
-- 6. Ask for help. There are numerous community sites that offer free tax-filing help for low-income taxpayers and seniors, many in multiple languages such as Russian, Chinese and Vietnamese. The free tax help, offered by trained volunteers, is sponsored by the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly programs, as well as the AARP. Locations include public libraries, senior centers and churches.
To find the nearest locations, go to www.irs.govor call 800-906-9887.
-- 8. Beware of scams. The IRS is reminding taxpayers to be on the alert for rogue tax preparers who solicit upfront fees with promises of "free" or "no paperwork" tax refunds. This tax season, they've preyed on low-income taxpayers, seniors and church members in a number of states. Avoid preparers who base their fee on the size of the return or claim they can get a larger refund than others. And never sign a blank return to be filled out by your tax preparer.
Also be on the lookout for phony IRS emails asking for your personal or financial information. If you get a suspicious IRS email, report it to: phishing(at)irs.gov.
-- 9. Waiting for a refund? Be patient. The IRS is experiencing some refund delays, partly because of ramped-up efforts to detect identity fraud involving phone refund claims.
Generally, those who e-file and request direct deposit can get their IRS refund in 10-21 days. Paper returns typically take a bit longer to get a refund by mail.
--10. Breathe deep. The help you need is out there.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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