No one enjoys doing taxes, which probably explains why so many of us leave it to the last. Possible. Moment.
With Tax Day fast approaching (next week!), millions of Americans are no doubt scrambling to track down receipts, bank statements and other important documents in a bid to meet the April 15 filing deadline.
But the more you rush, tax pros say, the more you’re likely to make mistakes that can cost you in the form of penalties, a delay in getting your refund and even a higher risk of an audit.
So if procrastination has gotten the better of you this year—don’t worry, you’re not alone—here are a few last-minute mistakes to avoid to keep your return error-free.
1. Overlooking Income
The IRS requires you to claim all income made in 2013, regardless of whether or not you received a W-2 or 1099 from an employer. Failing to disclose income is a common issue for last-minute filers—and an oversight the IRS is keen to uncover.
“Maybe someone did one little freelance job back in February and kind of forgot about it—and forgot to include it on their tax return,” says Lindsey Buchholz, principal analyst with H&R Block’s Tax Institute. “Those are the kind of things that the IRS can catch pretty easily.” And once the IRS realizes you owe more, you’ll be on the hook for the extra tax, plus penalties and interest. So even if you only worked a side job for a day, the income you received is still taxable, and you must claim it on your return.
2. Messing Up the Math
If you’re pressed for time, put away the pencil and paper. E-filing is easier, faster and more secure than processing your returns via snail mail—and you’ll avoid the long line at the post office come April 15.
Another upside to e-filed returns: You can eliminate mistakes, like “not understanding how to apply a tax table or not doing the math correctly,” says Buchholz, adding that online software will generally catch any errors you’ve made along the way. The good news is that the IRS offers free tax software to people whose incomes are less than $58,000, and free fillable tax forms for those who earn more. Companies like H&R Block and TurboTax also offer free simplified returns online.
That said, if you still prefer to file on paper, take the time to run your figures through a software program to make sure your final tallies are correct.