If you, like me, will be scrambling this week to finish your taxes, take a moment to glance over these last-minute reminders. I know, you don't have a minute to spare, but avoiding a few mistakes can save you a couple of bucks. You'll be more likely to get your refund on time, and you might even be able to avoid an unwanted letter from your friendly tax agents at the IRS.
- Check your ID. Check, double-check, and triple-check every Social Security number on your form. If you're missing one of these numbers, or you inadvertently write down the wrong number, your refund may be delayed.
- Take a break. If you can find the time, finish your return and set it aside for a little while before filing it. That may give you just enough time to remember a charitable donation or some other deductible expense you had forgotten. You might also want to double-check your files and the stray piles of unopened mail for any lost bank and investment forms. Speeding through a return at the last moment is the surest way to make an error that's not in your favor and end up paying higher taxes as a result.
- Sign and date your return. Make sure your spouse does, too. Don't find yourself standing in line at the post office thinking about forging your husband's signature because he left the house too early on April 17 for you to get his illegible scrawl on the tax return.
- Pay the right tax. If you're filling out a paper return, make sure you've correctly used the tax tables. I can tell you from experience that they quickly figure it out when you accidentally use the wrong one and claim a bigger refund than you're entitled to receive.
- Extend. If you're planning on applying for an extension, you must file that form by April 17. Don't plan to use an extension to avoid writing the IRS a big check, however. An extension only gets you more time to fill out a return. You still must approximate your taxes due and get them to the tax collectors by the filing deadline.
- E-file. If you're filing a paper return, you can expect a refund check within six to eight weeks. File electronically, and you can cut that time roughly in half.
- Track down your cash. If you filed your taxes a while ago and you're wondering why you haven't gotten your refund check yet, you can use the IRS website to track it down. The information will be available through its online refund tool as quickly as 72 hours after you electronically file your return or four weeks after you mail a paper return.
- Self-insure your audit risk. Think twice before buying expensive audit protection services. Read Foolish tax guru Roy Lewis' tips for audit proofing your tax return, instead. You may also want to read these additional tips for double-checking your tax return.
When you're finished, start thinking about next year's returns. You don't want to be in this last-minute bind again in 12 months, do you? Check out this month's issue of the Motley Fool Green Light newsletter for tactics to help you reduce your tax bill. Go back to the August issue for help getting your tax life organized. You can get access to these and all the other resources Motley Fool Green Light has to offer with a 30-day trial. It's free and will show you how to save more of your hard-earned money.