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

February 1 — Individuals who must make estimated tax payments
If you did not pay your last installment of estimated tax by January 15, you may choose (but are not required) to file your income tax return (Form 1040) for 2015 by February 1. Filing your return and paying any tax due by February 2 prevents any penalty for late payment of the last installment. If you cannot file and pay your tax by February 1, file and pay your tax by April 18.

February 1 — All Employers
Give your employees their copies of Form W2 for 2015. If an employee agreed to receive Form W2 electronically, have it posted on a website and notify the employee of the posting.

February 1 — Payers of gambling winnings
If you either paid reportable gambling winnings or withheld income tax from gambling winnings, give the winners their copies of Form W2G.

February 1 — Nonpayroll taxes
File Form 945 to report income tax withheld for 2015 on all nonpayroll items, including backup withholding and withholding on pensions, annuities, IRAs, gambling winnings, and payments of Indian gaming profits to tribal members. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules.

February 1 — Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
File Form 941 for the fourth quarter of 2015. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the quarter timely, properly, and in full, you have until February 10 to file the return.

February 1 — Certain small employers
File Form 944 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2015. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules. If your tax liability is $2,500 or more for 2015 but less than $2,500 for the fourth quarter, deposit any undeposited tax or pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full, you have until February 10 to file the return.

February 1 — Farm employers
File Form 943 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2015. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full, you have until February 10 to file the return.

February 1 — Federal unemployment tax
File Form 940 for 2015. If your undeposited tax is $500 r less, you can either pay it with your return or deposit it. If it is more than $500, you must deposit it. However, if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full, you have until February 10 to file the return.

February 1 — All businesses
Give annual information statements to recipients of certain payments you made during 2015 - Details

February 1 — Form 720 taxes
File Form 720 for the fourth quarter of 2015.

February 1 — Wagering tax
File Form 730 and pay the tax on wagers accepted during December 2015.

February 1 — Heavy highway vehicle use tax
File Form 2290 and pay the tax for vehicles first used in December 2015.

February 10 — Nonpayroll taxes
File Form 945 to report income tax withheld for 2015 on all nonpayroll items. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
File Form 941 for the fourth quarter of 2015. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter timely, properly, and in full.

February 10 — Certain small employers
File Form 944 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2015. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10 — Farm employers
File Form 943 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2015. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10 — Federal unemployment tax
File Form 940 for 2015. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10 — Employees who work for tips
If you received $20 or more in tips during January, report them to your employer - Details

February 10 — 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 January.

February 12 — Regular method taxes
Deposit the tax for the last 16 days of January.

February 15 — Everyone
Federal Holiday (Washington's Birthday) - Details

February 16 — Individuals
If you claimed exemption from income tax withholding last year on the Form W-4, you must file a new Form W-4 by this date to continue your exemption for another year - Details

February 16 — All businesses
Give annual information statements to recipients of certain payments you made during 2015 - Details

February 16 — Publication 509 (2015)
All payments reported on Form 1099S, Proceeds From Real Estate Transactions. Substitute payments reported in box 8 or gross proceeds paid to an attorney reported in box 14 of Form 1099MISC.

February 16 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in January.

February 16 — Nonpayroll withholding
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in January.

February 17 — All employers
Begin withholding income tax from the pay of any employee who claimed exemption from withholding in 2015, but did not give you Form W4 to continue the exemption this year.

February 25 — 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 January.

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

February 29 — All businesses
File information returns (for example, Forms 1099) for certain payments you made during 2015.

February 29 — Farmers & fishermen
File your 2015 income tax return (Form 1040) and pay any tax due - Details

February 29 — Payers of gambling winnings.
File Form 1096 along with Copy A of all the Forms W2G you issued for 2015. If you file Forms W2G electronically, your due date for filing them with the IRS will be extended to March 31. The due date for giving the recipient these forms remains February 1.

February 29 — All employers
File Form W3, Transmittal of Wage and Tax Statements, along with Copy A of all the Forms W2 you issued for 2015. If you file Forms W2 electronically, your due date for filing them with the SSA will be extended to March 31. The due date for giving the recipient these forms remains February 1.

February 29 — Large food and beverage establishment employers
File Form 8027, Employer's Annual Information Return of Tip Income and Allocated Tips. Use Form 8027T, Transmittal of Employer's Annual Information Return of Tip Income and Allocated Tips, to summarize and transmit Forms 8027 if you have more than one establishment. If you file Forms 8027 electronically, your due date for filing them with the IRS will be extended to March 31.

February 29 — Wagering tax
File Form 730 and pay the tax on wagers accepted during January.

February 29 — Heavy highway vehicle use tax
File Form 2290 and pay the tax for vehicles first used in January.

View More Tax Dates