The average federal income tax refund in 2003 was $2,000, according to the Internal Revenue Service. Yet millions of returns were delayed, not because of complicated issues, but due to simple mistakes in the filing process. Check for these common errors before completing your tax return this season:
Bad math—The IRS examines all returns for mathematical errors, so take out those calculators and double-check your arithmetic. Better yet, use tax software to do the calculations for you. And be careful when transferring figures from one schedule to another. Simple math errors can slow down your return and may lead to penalties.
Incorrect or missing Social Security Numbers—According to the U.S. government, your Social Security Number (SSN) is your identity, so carefully print your SSN at the top of each page. If there are any name changes, contact the Social Security Administration to make corrections. For more information, log on to www.ssa.gov or call (800) 772-1213.
Incorrect address—You won’t get a tax return check if the government can’t find you. Tens of thousands of refund checks end up back at the IRS annually because filers provide the wrong address or fail to submit a forwarding address. Avoid this issue by including your correct address on the peel-off label provided with the blank return the government sends you at the beginning of the tax season. You also can download a change-of-address form at www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f8822.pdf or request one by calling (800) 829-3676.
Misusing the tax tables—Be sure to find the correct column for your filing status, because tax rates are different from one status to another. To manage the small print of the tables, use a piece of paper to “underline” the correct column, and use a magnifying lens to highlight the figures.
Not signing and dating the return—In the rush for timely tax returns, many people simply forget to sign and date their return. An unsigned return won’t be processed, and if you miss the April 15th submission deadline, you could trigger late penalties. If filing a joint return, both spouses must sign and date the return.
Insufficient postage—Thousands send out tax returns only to find them back in their mailbox a few days later—again, a mistake that could result in late fees. Mail your return with the right postage, and you’ll save time and money.
You can’t avoid taxes, but you can help your refund from being unnecessarily delayed. For more answers to tax questions, visit www.irs.gov.