The Tax Man Cometh
Lori Z. Bahnmueller
Michigan Credit Union League - Your Money Matters
It's tax time again. Many of us will spend the next two months dreading the April 15 deadline. One month will be spent procrastinating the process, the next searching for all the necessary paperwork until the deadline dwindles to mere days and you finally put pencil to paper.
Once the forms are in the mail, it doesn't seem all that bad. Then promises are made to get it over with early next year. Well it's already next year. What are you doing to prepare for 1998's taxes? Here are a few simple things to do, beginning today, to make the inevitable less frustrating.
Organize Tax Papers
Start collecting all those letters that arrive in your mailbox marked "Important Tax Information Inside." Get a file and mark it "1998 Tax Papers." Even if you don't want to look at those papers now (other than making sure they're yours) you need to put them in a safe, organized place for the future.
These papers include tax forms, W-2 forms, 1099 forms, last paycheck stub of 1998, receipts for child care, tax-deductible gifts and investment statements. If you're not sure whether or not you need to keep something, save it until after you do your taxes. You'll save yourself time and frustration if you have everything in one place, ready to go when you become inspired.
Watch for Missing Forms
You should have received your 1998 W-2 form from your employer by January 31 of this year. If not, ask for it. If you didn't receive your IRS tax forms in the mail, or think you will need additional schedules, the library, post office, credit union or other financial institution will likely have them available for free.
You can also call the IRS toll-free number, 1-800-829-3676, to order forms, schedules and other free publications. Not having the right form is just another excuse you might use later to delay your taxes for one more week.
Know Where to Get Help
Okay, admit it. You don't understand everything you read in those IRS booklets. Don't feel bad, the rules can confound the most seasoned experts. If you have a question, ask. The IRS offers assistance only a toll-free telephone call away. If the IRS should make an error in answering your question, you are still responsible for the payment of the correct tax. However, you will not be charged a penalty. Keep a record of whom you spoke with, time and date that you called so that you have backup documentation if an error does occur.
You can also get free assistance by walk-in service at most IRS offices. These individuals cannot prepare your taxes, but they can give you line-by-line, self-help tax return assistance in either an individual or group setting. You can get your answers, take good notes and place them in your file until you're ready to figure out your taxes.
By taking these few simple steps now, you won't feel so bad about your procrastination, because you are doing something after all. When you are inspired to fill in all the numbers, you'll have everything organized and ready to go. If you do run into a few glitches or additional questions at the last minute, you'll know who to call for help.