As you know, Tax Day has been moved to April 18th. If you live in Maine or Massachusetts, you have until April 19 to file, because it’s Patriots’ Day on the 18th in those states. Lucky you, right?
Not so fast! Although you technically get a three-day (or four-day) reprieve, you don’t want to put off your taxes ’til the last minute, either. The same penalties for late filing and payments apply, and the IRS won’t be as lenient if you miss a deadline that’s already been moved.
On the other hand, sifting through the 2,600-page tax code can be scary. Yes, that’s much less than the 70,000 pages politicians rant about in their campaigns, but still a tad plenty for the average taxpayer. So how do you file taxes if you don’t even know where to start?
Look for Free, Reliable Ways to File Taxes Online
One of these is the Free File Alliance, which — as their name implies — helps you file taxes for free, provided your 2015 adjusted gross income is $62,000 or less. They’re partnered with the IRS, and use the latest, most secure software to help you process your returns. Keep in mind, however, that most of the companies involved in the alliance require you to meet at least one other criteria before you can use their services, so make sure you read the fine print.
Get Help From a Volunteer
If you earn $54,000 or less, are disabled or have limited English speaking abilities, you can sign up for the IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. Here, IRS-certified volunteers will guide you in-person through the process of basic income tax return preparation. You can check the nearest VITA site by calling 800-906-9887, or using the VITA Locator Tool provided in the link above.
Don’t Forget Your Tax Deductions and Tax Credits
Even though both of them reduce your taxes owed, it’s important to remember their differences. Whereas a tax deduction is a reduction of your taxable income, a tax credit is a reduction of taxes due. In other words, a deduction comes before you calculate taxes, while a credit comes after your taxes are calculated.
For example, depending on your state’s tax laws, you may be eligible to deduct sales taxes. If the itemized expenses in your Schedule A exceed the standard deduction amount you’re entitled to, you can report your sales tax deduction on the same form. Likewise, if your income is in the low- or middle-level, you have children and/or you’re pursuing higher education, you might want to factor one of these 10 tax credits into your calculations.
Ask for an Extension
If, for any reason, there’s no way you can file your taxes on time, you can ask for an extension. Just file Form 4868 on or before April 18th (or April 19th, if you live in Maine or Massachusetts), and you’ll automatically have a six-month window — or until October 17th — to file your taxes.
This isn’t a “Get out of Jail” card, though. As far as the IRS is concerned, it’s okay to delay filing taxes, but not to delay paying them. If you can pay at least 90 percent of your tax liability by the deadline, you won’t be penalized (though you’ll still have to pay interest for the remaining 10 percent).
Take an Out-of-Country Trip
No, seriously. If you’re outside the U.S. for work purposes, you’ll automatically have a two-month extension without lifting a finger. The same goes for people involved in natural disasters and deployed military personnel. Just make sure you have the documents to prove that you’re qualified for this one.
Don’t feel bad about getting an extension. A lot of people — like those in business partnerships — do so for valid, completely unavoidable reasons. Unless you have less-than-noble reasons for failing to file taxes, there’s no reason to pull your hair out every time Tax Day is around the corner.