Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly listed a different tax-return due date for residents of Maine and Massachusetts. The same April 18 date applies to all states in 2017. The author and the Fool regret the error.
Tax season is coming to an end, and even those who put off doing their returns until the last minute are feeling the pressure to get things done. With that in mind, there are several things you need to keep in mind in order to make sure you not only get your tax returns filed, but also do a good enough job to avoid getting in trouble with the IRS.
When is the deadline for getting my taxes filed this year?
Most of the time, April 15 is the date you need to remember for getting your taxes filed. Yet for a couple of years in a row now, that hasn't been the actual deadline. For 2017, there are a couple of things in play that give taxpayers a few extra days to get their returns done.
April 15 is a Saturday this year, and that triggers provisions that push the due date to the next business day. That would ordinarily be April 17, but that day is the Emancipation Day holiday in Washington, D.C. The D.C. holiday closes IRS offices, and that makes the appropriate day April 18.
How does the IRS already know what my income is?
The IRS collects information from your employer, financial institutions, and other entities that create tax information forms like W-2s, 1099s, and similar filings. That gives the tax man a leg up on what to expect when you file, and if your return doesn't match up with IRS computers, then it's going to raise a red flag with the IRS that could lead to an audit.
Therefore, don't file without accounting for every tax form that was filed in connection with your taxes. Sometimes, those forms have incorrect numbers on them. But in that case, you should still have the provider correct the numbers on an amended information return rather than just filing your taxes with the right numbers and hoping everything works out automatically -- because it probably won't.
Am I taking every tax break I can?
One of the most surprising things about taxpayer behavior is that many people never take advantage of all the tax breaks that are available to them. By doing so, millions of taxpayers leave money on the table that could have dramatically increased their refunds.
For instance, many low- and middle-income workers overlook the earned income tax credit, which can put as much as $6,000 or more back in your pocket. Itemized deductions for state income and sales taxes, charitable deductions, and student-loan interest that parents paid on behalf of their children are just a few of the oft-missed write-offs that can also cut your tax bill. With many different tax benefits available, it's worth the time to explore them to see if you can qualify for tax savings.
How should I file my return?
If you want your refund as quickly as possible, then there's no substitute for electronic filing. With greater convenience and faster processing time, e-filing is the best way to get the money the IRS owes you back into your bank account efficiently. Yet even if you owe money, electronic filing has the benefit of helping to reduce the number of unnecessary errors in your tax return while avoiding the potential difficulties of physical mailing of paper returns. With free filing programs available to the vast majority of taxpayers, electronic filing is easily available and encouraged.
How can I get more time to finish my taxes?
By now, you might think that there's no way you can get your taxes done on time. That's not a huge problem, because you can get an automatic extension for six months simply by filing a request on IRS Form 4868.
One thing to remember, though, is that you still have to pay your taxes by mid-April. To do so, you'll estimate what your eventual tax bill will be and then pay it to the IRS by the April 18 deadline. Interest and penalties apply if you undershoot, so it's important to be as accurate as possible. Those who expect refunds don't need to worry about paying taxes with your extension request, with the only consequence being that you'll wait longer before getting your money back.
Don't stress out about your taxes. By knowing these simple tax facts, you can get the perspective you need to do your taxes the right way and avoid any unnecessary problems down the road.