NEW YORK (MainStreet) — If you're handling your own taxes this year, you're not alone. One-third of Americans do their own taxes, according to FatWallet.com, a Beloit, Wis., consumer financial deals provider, and three-quarters get a tax refund, averaging about $3,000 per taxpayer.
If you want your money back faster, you can file your taxes early. By and large, the quicker you file, the faster you get your refund (primarily because so many Americans wait until April 15 to file, adding more volume work for the Internal Revenue Service).
But don't rush it. That means not hitting "send" or heading to the post office until you cross these items off your early filing checklist:
Choose the right preparer. If you're handling your own taxes, best of luck; we hope you know what you're doing. (The IRS offers a free website to file your taxes here.) If you're counting on a tax preparation firm, do your homework.
"Last year, one of the dirty dozen tax scams was Return Preparer Fraud," says Mark Hanson, an IRS spokesman. "There are many fine professionals that do great work, but unfortunately, there are also criminal actions that take place." Watch for telltale signs you may not be getting a good deal: "A tax professional should not be telling you they're going to charge you based on the amount of refund they can get you. Never sign a blank tax return and let someone fill it out for you," Hanson says. "If someone wants you to do that, that might be a red flag you want to go elsewhere."
Don't expect an ultra-fast return. Based on the past two tax seasons, the opening date for the IRS accepting tax returns isn't Jan. 1 or even Jan. 15. In 2013, the "opening date" was Jan. 30, thanks to delays from Congress acting on new tax code changes, and the same thing happened in 2014 - when the date was pushed back to Jan. 31. This year the date arrives earlier, Tuesday. (See the IRS chart estimating tax refund payments based on tax filing dates here.)
Account for ACA status. Americans will be dealing with the Affordable Care Act's individual shared responsibility provision for the first time, and it could affect the tax refund you get this year. If you work for an employer, make sure you have IRS Form 1095-C, or have Form 1095-B from your health insurer. Review the form and check off the box saying you have health care insurance as defined under the ACA and you're good to go.
If you elected to forgo insurance, be prepared to see Uncle Sam withhold some tax refund cash. Review IRS form 8965 to see how much you're dinged on your tax refund — it could be up to 1% of your household taxable income for 2014. If you got a subsidy based on your ACA status, calculate what that means to your tax refund on Form 8962 on Form 1040 or 1040A. (Note you can't use IRS Form 1040EZ if you got a health care subsidy from the government.)
— By Brian O'Connell for MainStreet