by Sally Herigstad

Everybody makes mistakes – there are no exceptions. If you discover an error or something you missed on your return after you filed it, don't panic.

Fortunately, most mistakes in life can be fixed, and your tax return is no exception.

When should I file an amended tax return?

A Form 1099 that slipped under the couch, a substantial business deduction you forgot, or any other item that changes your tax return may mean you need to file an amended return.

Sometimes you need to file an amended return for something that is not your fault. For example, your employer may send a corrected form, which means the amounts you used when you filed your return need to be corrected.

Unless the change to your tax liability is inconsequential, it's best to change your return.

In some cases, you should file an amended return even if the changes don't impact the amount of tax you owe. For example, if you entered an incorrect Social Security number, you should amend your return to avoid future problems.

How to file an amended return

The most important thing to know about filing an amended return is that you should not start over and file Form 1040 and all the attached forms again. You only file your complete tax return once. After that, you file Form 1040X – Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return and change only the items that are incorrect.

If the incorrect items are entered on other forms or schedules, you attach the corrected forms or schedules to Form 1040X. Do not attach copies of forms or schedules that do not change.

You cannot e-file your amended return. Instead, the IRS requires that you print the Form and file it by mail.

Don't forget your state income tax return. If you live in a state with a state income tax, you generally must amend both returns.

Am I in big trouble with the IRS?

Simply put, not really.

Even if you make a huge mistake such as forgetting to enter your Form W-2, the IRS has seen it all before. Unless you committed fraud or tax evasion, they won't hold it against you. All they really want is the money.

That said, the sooner you fix any errors on your return, the better.

If you owe more tax because of a mistake on your return, the sooner you file and pay the tax, the less penalty and interest you will have to pay.

Don't automatically assume you have to pay a penalty. If you amend your return before it is due (before April 15), then your amendment is timely, and no interest or penalty will accrue. Also, the IRS can be quite reasonable, especially for a first-time mistake. Attach a statement with your amended return, and specifically ask for an "abatement" of any penalty.

Besides, if you have to amend your return, you might as well get it over with. It probably won't be as hard as you expect.

How can I avoid mistakes in the future?

You can avoid most tax return mistakes by organizing your information before doing your taxes and not waiting until the last minute to start your return. Tax software takes care of the math and checks your return for errors, missing information and potential savings.

It's also very important to read your tax return before you file it. Comparing it to last year's return can help jog your memory about deductions and other items.

Don't hang on to your unfiled return too long, however, because you're afraid it's not perfect. It's better to file your return on time, even if you have to amend it later, than to pay penalties for late filing.

Have you ever requested an abatement of penalty for a tax return?

If you'd like to join in on the discussion around this post, we'd love to see you in the conversation over on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

Photo credit: ktpupp via photopin cc

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Upcoming Tax Dates

February 10 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
File Form 941 for the fourth quarter of 2017. 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 2017. 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 2017. 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 2017. 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 15 — All businesses
Give annual information statements to recipients of certain payments you made during 2017 Details

February 15 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in January.

February 15 — All employers
Begin withholding income tax from the pay of any employee who claimed exemption from withholding in 2017, but did not give you Form W4 to continue the exemption this year.

February 15 — Individuals
If you claimed exemption from income tax withholding last year on the Form W-4, you must file a new Form W-04 by this date to continue your exemption for another year Details

February 19 — Everyone
Federal Holiday (Washington's Birthday) Details

February 28 — All businesses
File information returns (for example, Forms 1099) for certain payments you made during 2017.

February 28 — Payers of gambling winnings.
File Form 1096 along with Copy A of all the Forms W2G you issued for 2017. If you file Forms W2G electronically, your due date for filing them with the IRS will be extended to 03-31. The due date for giving the recipient these forms remains 01-31.

February 28 — All employers
File Form W3, Transmittal of Wage and Tax Statements, along with Copy A of all the Forms W2 you issued for 2017. If you file Forms W2 electronically, your due date for filing them with the SSA will be extended to 03-31. The due date for giving the recipient these forms remains 01-31.

February 28 — 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 03-31.

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