Tips for eliminating errors and stress at tax time

Lady using a computer

(NAPS) — It's almost tax time. Whether you love it or dread it, there are ways to make doing your taxes easy and painless.

First, gather your tax documents and information. You'll need W-2s from your employer, receipts, a copy of last year's return, and any 1098s and 1099s. Avoid forgetting something important by using a tax return checklist at www.taxact.com/checklist.

Next, take a few minutes to get informed. Tax law changes every year, especially in recent years. Taxes have a major impact on your personal finances – why not have a basic understanding of them to make sure you're getting all your money? You also don't want to miss out on the several tax breaks that expire after 2011. Getting informed is as easy as reading a brief section called "What's New for 2011" in IRS Publication 17 at www.irs.gov.

Third, prepare your return online or with download software, and use a free solution. Why pay if you don't have to? Do a little research about free solutions to make sure your situation is covered. You can try online products risk-free, so take a couple for a test drive. Many experts consider TaxACT to be the most complete free tax product.

Tax preparation solutions walk you through every step, from start to finish, at your pace. They're designed for users who know a lot about taxes and those who know nothing about them. Top solutions provide free tax help and back your results with several guarantees. If you're thinking about changing solutions or filing for the first time, TaxACT in particular makes the transition easy with data import and fast start options.

Electronically file your return. E-filing is easy, convenient and safe. It's also the only filing method that allows you to receive confirmation from the IRS when your return is received and processed.

Getting a refund? Select direct deposit. Combined with e-file, you'll receive your refund in eight to 10 days, rather than six to eight weeks for a check.

Fourth, don't procrastinate. The IRS filing deadline for 2011 tax returns is April 17, 2012. You could lose money from errors due to rushing, including typos and missed tax benefits. If you've experienced major life changes during the year, allot some extra time to make sure you get all your tax benefits.

Need more time to file? Request an automatic six-month filing extension by filing IRS Form 4868. Keep in mind a filing extension does not extend your time to pay, so pay as much as possible by April 17, 2012. Failing to pay on time results in penalties and interest that could increase your tax bill by more than 25 percent.

If you can't afford to pay what you owe, the IRS offers help. Call the agency to discuss installment plans, payment options, extended time to pay and other assistance.

More tax time tips can be found at www.irs.gov. Learn about TaxACT and start your free federal return at www.taxact.com. You can also visit www.taxact.com/taxinfo for a list of key tax law changes.

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Upcoming Tax Dates

April 11 — Employees who work for tips
If you received $20 or more in tips during March, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

April 12 — Communications and air transportation taxes under the alternative method
Deposit the tax included in amounts billed or tickets sold during the first 15 days of March.

April 14 — Regular method taxes
Deposit the tax for the last 16 days of March.

April 18 — Individuals
File a 2015 income tax return (Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ) and pay any tax due. If you want an automatic 6 month extension of time to file the return, file Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. For more information, see Form 4868. Then, file Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ by October 17.

April 18 — Individuals
If you are not paying your 2016 income tax through withholding (or will not pay in enough tax during the year that way), pay the first installment of your 2016 estimated tax. Use Form 1040ES.

April 18 — Household Employers
If you paid cash wages of $1,900 or more in 2015 to a household employee, you must file Schedule H - Details

April 18 — Partnerships
File a 2015 calendar year return (Form 1065) - Details

April 18 — Partnerships
Electing large partnerships: File a 2015 calendar year return (Form 1065-B) - Details

April 18 — Corporations
Deposit the first installment of estimated income tax for 2016 - Details

April 18 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in March.

April 18 — Nonpayroll withholding
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in March.

April 18 — Household employers
If you paid cash wages of $1,900 or more in 2015 to a household employee, you must file Schedule H (Form 1040). If you are required to file a federal income tax return (Form 1040), file Schedule H (Form 1040) with the return and report any household employment taxes. Report any federal unemployment (FUTA) tax on Schedule H (Form 1040) if you paid total cash wages of $1,000 or more in any calendar quarter of 2014 or 2015 to household employees. Also, report any income tax you withheld for your household employees.

April 27 — Communications and air transportation taxes under the alternative method
Deposit the tax included in amounts billed or tickets sold during the last 16 days of March.

April 29 — Regular method taxes
Deposit the tax for the first 15 days of April.

View More Tax Dates