When you’re due a tax refund from the IRS, chances are you want it as quickly as possible. The easiest way to accomplish that is to make sure your tax return isn’t delayed by common mistakes.
There are a handful of errors the IRS regularly encounters. These raise an immediate red flag and can cause your refund to be delayed by weeks or months as the IRS tries to sort out the answers – you may even be asked to re-file.
Especially if you file on paper, be sure to double-check the following easily overlooked items.
1. Check All Social Security Numbers
Make sure that the Social Security numbers you enter for yourself, your spouse, and your children or other dependents are correct. This is the single most common error, and all it takes is a careful double-check to make sure the numbers are not wrong. Consult everyone’s individual Social Security cards if you have to, since this is one thing TurboTax can’t check on your behalf. If you’re filing your return on paper, write the numbers legibly and make sure they’re clear and easy to read.
2. Use Your Own Name and Social Security Number
If you’re married filing separately, don’t put your spouse’s name on your return. Only put your own name and social security number down.
3. Make Sure Names Are Updated
It’s important to double-check that the name of the person filing matches the name on the corresponding Social Security card. For instance, if you recently changed your name, you must file that name change with the Social Security Administration and get a new card. Otherwise, the Federal Government won’t have it on file.
4. Select Only One Filing Status
This is a very common mistake on paper returns, since online tax preparation software only allows you to choose one filing status. If you’re filing your return on paper, make sure you’ve clearly checked off the proper filing status, and that you’ve only checked one.
5. Be Sure to Sign Your Return
If you are filing as married filing jointly, your spouse must also sign the tax return. If this simple step is overlooked, your return must be re-filed and it can be held up for weeks. You always must sign your own return, even if prepared by someone else.
6. Double-Check Current Tax Tables
Make sure you calculate your amount due correctly – especially if doing so by hand. Double-check that you’re using the most up-to-date version of the IRS tax tables and triple-check your math.
7. Check for Earned Income Credit Eligibility
Eligibility for this credit is based on your income, and income limits have risen each year. For the 2015 tax year, your adjusted gross income (AGI) must be less than the following:
- $47,747 ($53,267 for married filing jointly) if you have three or more qualifying children.
- $44,454 ($49,974 for married filing jointly) if you have two qualifying children.
- $39,131 ($44,651 for married filing jointly) if you have one qualifying child.
- $14,820 ($20,330 for married filing jointly) if you do not have a qualifying child.
If you didn’t qualify for this credit last year, but were unemployed at any time this year, you might qualify this year. Also, if you have children in college, you may qualify since the tuition and fees deduction reduces your AGI. Note, though, that you aren’t eligible to take the Earned Income Credit if you are under 25 or over 64, even if your income is low enough to meet the limits. The exception to this is if you have a qualifying child.
8. Check for Age-Specific Deductions
If you checked off that you’re over 65, make sure you’re aware of the special instructions for taking the standard tax deduction. You’re generally able to claim a larger one. There is a worksheet on page 40 of the 1040 instructions to help you figure it out.
9. Check Routing and Account Numbers
If you’ve requested a direct deposit refund from the IRS, make sure you double-check the routing and account numbers for your bank account. This is also a very common error that can lead to delays – and also very easy to correct.
10. Make Sure You’re Eligible to Claim Dependents
When claiming qualifying dependents on your taxes, make sure those dependents are actually able to be claimed. If they make any of their own money and support themselves, they may not in fact qualify as your dependent and may need to file on their own. Children who live with you may not be your dependents, for example, if they pay for more than half their living expenses.
11. File on Time or Get an Extension
And last, but not least, make sure you file on time: The tax filing deadline this year is April 18, 2016. If you think you need more time to get your taxes together, you can file for a tax extension. If approved, this would give you until October 17, 2016 to file your return.
Keep in mind that an extension on filing your return does not mean you get an extension on paying your taxes, so if your goal in requesting an extension is to get more time to come up with the necessary cash, you’re better off simply calling the IRS and telling a representative you’re not able to pay right now. You can then work on setting up an installment plan – the last thing you want is the IRS coming after you for tax evasion fraud.
Give the IRS a helping hand, and don’t be one of the millions of taxpayers whose returns have to be sent back because of minor errors. In most cases, they can be avoided just by giving your tax return an extra look for errors. In return, the IRS will thank you by sending your refund as swiftly as possible.
Are there any programs or methods that you think work well for fixing common errors?