It’s tax time! The IRS started accepting individual returns for processing on Jan. 31 — later than usual, but better late than never.
Last year, the IRS issued a useful list of the eight most common filing errors made by individual taxpayers. Many of the mistakes people make are incredibly easy to avoid — it just takes a little care and attention.
If the IRS owes you a refund, it could be delayed if your return contains an error like one of these:
1. Wrong or missing Social Security numbers: Your refund could be delayed simply because you made a mistake listing your Social Security number. The number on your return must match the number on your Social Security cards.
2. Names wrong or misspelled: You’ve got to spell your own name right, or the IRS will get confused. Again, your name on your return should match the name on your Social Security card.
If you’ve changed your name since you filed your last return, you need to notify the Social Security Administration (SSA) and obtain a new Social Security card before you file your taxes. The SSA will issue a new Social Security card with your new name, but will keep your old Social Security number. This way, the name on your tax return will match Social Security records.
If your name and Social Security number don’t match, the IRS will flag your return and require that the error be corrected. It’s easy to let the SSA know about your name change and get a new Social Security card. All you need to do is file Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card, at your local SSA office or by mail with proof of your legal name change. You can get Form SS-5 from the SSA’s website at www.ssa.gov
3. Math mistakes: Your math needs to add up. This ordinarily isn’t a problem if you file electronically, since the software does the math for you. Because most people file electronically, math errors have gone down. Such errors were found in 2 percent of returns filed in 2012, less than one-fifth the rate for 2002. Still, if you file on paper, be sure to double-check your math.
4. Wrong bank account numbers: The IRS will direct-deposit your refund directly into your bank account. But you have to give the correct account number.
5. Forms not signed, dated: The IRS says that an unsigned tax return is like an unsigned check — it’s invalid. Also, remember both spouses must sign a joint return.
6. Electronic signature errors: If you e-file your tax return, you sign the return electronically by using a Personal Identification Number (PIN). For security purposes, the IRS software will ask you to enter the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) from your return for last year. This should be the AGI from the return you originally filed. If you later amended your return, or the IRS provided you with a different AGI after correct your return, don’t use those numbers. You may also use last year’s PIN if you e-filed last year and remember your PIN.
7. Filing status errors: Your filing status means whether you file your return as single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household, or qualifying widow(er) with dependent child. Usually, it is pretty obvious what your status should be, but there can be complications. If you e-file your return, the software will help you choose the right filing status.
8. Errors in figuring credits, deductions: This is where taxes can get complicated. Moreover, a mistake here can cost you extra taxes or prevent your from getting a refund. For example, if you are age 65 or older, you’re entitled to a larger-than-normal standard deduction. But you must claim the deduction on your return. The same goes for common deductions such as charitable deductions.
Stephen Fishman is a tax expert, attorney and author who has published 20 books, including “The Real Estate Agent’s Tax Deduction Guide,” “Working for Yourself,” “Deduct It!” and “Working with Independent Contractors.” His website can be found at fishmanlawandtaxfiles.com.