Tips Can Help Taxpayers Keep More of Their Earnings – and Sanity
Apr. 3, 2013
Still haven’t filed that income tax return?
UT Dallas tax senior lecturer Art Agulnek has some practical advice for avoiding costly mistakes and other Tax Day headaches.
Too many taxpayers make simple errors that can delay refunds, he says. Others leave money on the table by overlooking deductions. And growing numbers have discovered that identity thieves already have beaten them to their refunds.
But when it comes to tax returns, more taxpayers are their own worst enemies, said Dr. Yu Harumi, UT Dallas psychologist and counselor.
Many wait until the last minute to file, delaying out of fear, lack of time and the natural tendency to put off challenging or boring tasks. But that only causes more problems, Harumi said.
Agulnek and Harumi’s advice can keep you from making costly errors and seeing red at 1040 time.
Avoid Identity Theft
Growing numbers of people have filed tax returns to find that another already has been filed under the same Social Security number. IRS identity theft investigations tripled between 2011 and 2012 to 900 cases and continue to grow.
The advice may sound simple, but one of the most important ways to prevent identity theft is to never carry your Social Security card, said Agulnek.
“Never give out your Social Security number to a store clerk,” he said.
If you e-file, make sure you are on the official IRS site, www.irs.gov, to avoid scams. The IRS emphasizes that it does not ask taxpayers for personal information by email or social media.
Don’t miss out on tax deductions that expired but now have been restored, Agulnek said. The following are often overlooked:
- State and local sales taxes. The IRS allows you to deduct these by using its own figures based on your income and geographic location. Or you can use your own receipts if you have the records.
- Charitable contributions paid through payroll deductions. Employees may retain pay stubs as proof.
- Child and Dependent Care Credit. You may be able to claim this credit if you paid a provider to care for a dependent while you worked or job-hunted.
- Job search expenses. The IRS allows deductions for costs such as travel and resume printing.
- Education tax credits. The American Opportunity Tax Credit provides up to $2,500 per student for up to four years of college.
- Educators Expense Deduction. Up to $250 for out-of-pocket costs for school and classroom supplies.
- Earned income tax credit. Families with lower incomes that qualify can claim this credit.
Don’t Make These Mistakes
Most mistakes come from not reading the instructions, Agulnek said. The IRS reports the top mistakes are forgetting to sign and date the return, omitting children’s Social Security numbers and math errors.
Agulnek said that e-filing helps reduce errors by double-checking your return, decreasing the chance of an audit.
Procrastinate at Your Own Peril
Filing taxes can feel so daunting that some put it off, Harumi said, but failing to file on time or incorrectly can be costly.
Dr. Harumi recommends a few steps to overcome procrastinating on tax returns:
- First, attitude is everything. Focus on the end result of finishing the task, feeling good about it, and possibly getting a refund.
- Break up the overall task into smaller ones. Tackle one small task per day and set a deadline for having it completed.
- Giving yourself a reward for each completed small task.
- It’s OK to take a break — you don’t need to try to finish it all at once.
- Finally, be willing to ask for help. You may already know someone trained or willing to help you with filing your tax return. Even asking for help in completing small tasks (e.g., making photocopies of the forms you’re sending to the IRS for your own records, etc.) can make a difference.
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