Are you a perennial procrastinator on income tax filing? Lucky you—you get a few extra days this year, as the filing deadline is April 18.
And, by the way, you’re not alone. Citing data from the Internal Revenue Service, TurboTax said 20% to 25% of all Americans wait until the last two weeks before the deadline to prepare their returns.
If you’re one of those who like the rush of racing the clock, you have two choices: get your return together or file for an extension.
An Important Gathering
To file on time, you’ll need a few documents, starting with the W-2 from your employer, which should have arrived by January 31. If you’re self-employed, look for 1099s, which should also have already arrived in the mail. You may have received a 1099-INT for interest earned, such as from a savings account, and if you own a home with a mortgage, you’ll be receiving a 1098, the mortgage interest statement.
If you plan to itemize, be sure to gather receipts for all purchases and payments made in 2016, including those for business, healthcare, and education. If you’ll be claiming dependents, make sure you have their Social Security numbers in addition to your own. Double-check that you’ve entered these numbers correctly, or your return will be kicked back to you and you may be liable for penalties.
Don’t Overlook Deductions
It’s not too late to lower your 2016 taxes, said Benjamin Sullivan, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ at Palisades Hudson Financial Group.
On or before April 18, you can still contribute to a health savings account (HSA) and a traditional individual retirement account (IRA) to reduce taxes, Sullivan said.
For the HSA, the account owner must have had a high-deductible health plan with a maximum allowable out-of-pocket amount of $6,550 for an individual and $13,100 for a family, he said. The annual contribution limit for 2016 is $3,350 for individuals and $6,750 for families. Participants age 55 or older can also make $1,000 of additional catch-up contributions. There are no income limits.
“An HSA is a great way to save for future medical expenses because contributions reduce your taxable income, and HSA distributions used for qualified medical expenses are tax-free,” Sullivan said.
Do you have an IRA, and have you made your 2016 contributions? You can contribute to these tax-deferred accounts up to $5,500 for 2016—$6,500 if you’re over 50. Unlike HSAs, though, there are income limits with IRAs. Contribution eligibility begins to phase out at $117,000 for single filers, and you’re ineligible if your income is above $132,000. If you file jointly, the phase-out begins at $184,000 and you’re ineligible if your income is above $194,000.
Can’t get your taxes done in time? You can file for an extension no later than midnight on April 18.
Use Form 4868, “Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return,” to request an extension for filing your return, TurboTax said. The IRS usually grants extensions automatically and, in general, you don’t explain why you need one the first time.
However, you still have to pay any taxes owed, so pay as much as possible of your estimated balance, regardless of your extension request.
Sullivan said self-employed filers should take advantage of being able to contribute to SEP IRAs by October 16. A SEP IRA can be funded as late as your income tax filing deadline, including extensions.
“This gives anyone who files a Schedule C until October 16, 2017, to drastically reduce their 2016 tax bills,” he said.
Now get going.
Tax Deadline Approaching
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