You're three months away from the tax filing deadline for 2015. Is your return anywhere near ready?
If you didn't start making year-end tax plans before December 31, it might be worth your while to start gathering up all your documents now and getting organized. The Internal Revenue Service began accepting tax returns on Tuesday, though technically you could have prepared a return on paper or through tax software and submitted it earlier. However, the IRS wouldn't accept them until January 19.
Filing this early makes it less likely that you'll be a victim of tax fraud, since someone would have to sneak in a return with a fraudulent refund amount before yours arrives, but it also requires everyone to play along. If you haven't been collecting pay stubs all year, you'll have to wait on W-2 or 1099 forms from your employer. Those don't have to reach taxpayers until Feb. 1, which almost guarantees you'll kick off tax season behind the pack.
Granted, you have a few extra days to file this year. The deadline for 2015 returns is Monday, April 18, rather than the traditional April 15 date, thanks to the fact that Washington, D.C., is celebrating Emancipation Day on April 15. However, since Maine and Massachusetts are celebrating the battles of Lexington and Concord on Patriots Day that Monday with the Boston Marathon and a Red Sox game, the deadline in those states will be Tuesday, April 19. That said, you don't want to be among the hordes racing to the Post Office that day, as Jonathan Medows, a New York-based certified public accountant, knows all too well.
“You have a lot of people in this situation,” Medows told us around the 2015 deadline. “I get a lot of these last-minute calls, but unfortunately I'm really only handling the current clients and taking care of them, because there are always a lot of last-minute issues that come up -- making sure their stuff is e-filed, making sure extensions our e-filed.”
In the really unlikely event that you're audited -- which has seen its budget slashed nearly 20% in the last five years and has slashed audits from 1.4 million in 2013 to close to 1 million last year -- the state and IRS tend to go a lot easier on folks who didn't receive their 1099s or misplaced them than those who outright withheld them.
Also, this is a good time to figure out whether or not you're going to itemize your return. Scott Stavin, a certified public accountant and tax principal at Friedman LLC in New York, notes that itemized deductions are a year-round concern that taxpayers generally forget about until the last minute. If you've made charitable donations of any kind, it's time to dig up those receipts.
“We're always reminding clients to remember cash charity as well as clothing and household items that they may have contributed,” he says. “Clients should retain and forward to their accountants the documentation.”