When you are expecting a tax refund from the IRS, you undoubtedly 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. In certain cases, you may even be asked to refile.
Be sure to double-check the following easily overlooked items, especially if you file on paper.
Tax Filing Checklist
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 correct. Take a look at everyone’s individual Social Security card if you have to. This is one thing online tax prep software cannot check for you, since they do not have access to the Social Security Administration database. If you’re filing your return on paper, write the numbers legibly, making sure they’re clear and easy to read.
2. Use Your Own Name and Social Security Number
If you’re married filing separately, you are the taxpayer. Put your own name and Social Security number in the header section of the return. Do not put your spouse’s name in the header section of the return. Your spouse’s Social Security number goes in the header section, but your spouse’s name goes on a line in the filing section, next to filing status 3, married filing separately.
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 return will be rejected because there is a mismatch with Social Security Administration records.
4. Select Only One Filing Status
This is a very common mistake on paper returns. Fortunately, online tax preparation software allows you to choose only 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 checked only one.
5. Be Sure to Sign Your Return
If you are filing as married filing jointly, both you and your spouse must sign the tax return. If this simple step is overlooked, your return must be refiled, and it can be held up for weeks. Even if you use a paid preparer, you must always sign your own return.
6. Double-Check Current Tax Tables
Make sure you calculate the tax on your taxable income correctly – especially if you’re 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. Income limits are indexed to inflation, so they rise each year. For the 2017 tax year, your adjusted gross income (AGI) must be less than the following:
- $48,340 ($53,930 for married filing jointly) if you have three or more qualifying children
- $45,007 ($50,597 for married filing jointly) if you have two qualifying children
- $39,617 ($45,207 for married filing jointly) if you have one qualifying child
- $15,010 ($20,600 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 begin contributing to a Traditional IRA or begin paying student loan interest, you may qualify because those adjustments reduce 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 an increased amount. 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 it’s one that’s 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 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
Make sure you file on time: The tax filing deadline for 2017 taxes is April 17, 2018. 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 15, 2018 to file your return.
Keep in mind that an extension to file your return does not mean you get an extension to pay 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 calling the IRS and telling a representative you’re not able to pay right now. You can then work on setting up an installment agreement – the last thing you want is the IRS coming after you for tax evasion fraud.
12. Include Your Identity Protection Pin
If you have been a victim of identity theft, and the IRS has provided you with an IP PIN (Identity Protection Personal Identification Number), did you remember to include it on page 2 of the 1040? Identity theft is bad enough, but having your refund delayed because you need to prove your identity (again!) is highly frustrating, and an error you can easily correct.
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, mistakes can be avoided just by giving your tax return a second check 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 catching and fixing common errors?