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Jan 202013
 
 January 20, 2013  Posted by  Money, Taxes
tax preparation

April 15 –tax day – isn’t all that far away, and a lot of taxpayers are not sure how the recent action (or inaction) by Congress affects this year’s tax return. Not to worry, says master tax advisor Mary VanDersarl, who has been doing taxes for H&R Blo9ck for 25 years. The 2012 tax code is almost identical to the 2011 code.

Millions of Americans save money by doing their own taxes, and if the job is simple, that’s fine, she says. The online tax options are often easy for those with a basic return. But even simple returns can have costly mistakes. “We see errors to the good and to the bad,” she says. “We see people taking deductions they’re not entitled to, and people not taking deductions they should.”

Here are some tips from a tax preparer who has seen it all:

Get your filing status right.

“I’ve had people who have made mistakes as simple as misidentifying their filing status,” VanDersarl said. “We had a man who filed as ‘head of household’ and put his wife down as a dependent because she didn’t have a job. They did much better when they filed jointly.”

Who gets to claim whom?

There’s often confusion in blended families as to who gets the child tax credit, she says. That depends on where the children live, whether or not the adults in the household are legally married, and many other factors. Such situations may require professional help.

Questionable deductions

Sometimes employees spend money out of their own pockets for their jobs and instead of filing for reimbursement from the company, try to write it off on their taxes.

“That’s the kind of thing that will get you audited,” VanDersarl says.

Record keeping

Everyone should keep good records, but self-employed people must keep meticulous records, including mileage logs and every receipt for every expense that’s allowed.

Don’t file too early

People are so anxious to get their refunds, they file before they get all their W-2 or 1099 forms from employers. Re-filing can be a pain.

Charitable contributions

Be specific about charitable contributions.  If you donate money to a charity, try to get a letter of acknowledgement.. If you donate goods to a charity, like Goodwill Industries, ask for a receipt. And list everything in the donation (five pair of women’s jeans, one set of window curtains, etc.) and try to get an estimated value on each item (like how much it might bring at the second-hand store). Keep that along with your receipt. You can find a good chart of probable values if you go online to Goodwill.org,

The last detail

And if filing by snail-mail, don’t forget to sign the form. “You wouldn’t believe how many people do that,” she says. “The IRS will send it right back to you.”

Linda DuVal

Linda DuVal has lived in Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region since 1969. She has been writing about the area for most of that time and is the co-author of the new “Insider’s Guide to Colorado Springs,” from Globe Pequot Press. She was a working journalist with The Gazette – the city’s daily newspaper – for 32 years, covering everything from city council to fashion trends, books and authors to travel and food. She has been a freelance writer since 2004, contributing regularly to newspapers, magazines and online sites. Linda owns and operates Pikes Peak On The Cheap.

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