Bankrate's 2009 Tax Guide
Tips and tools
13 basic tax lessons

Keep in mind, however, that it's still an extension to file your return, not an extension to pay any taxes you owe.

If you don't have the money to pay your tax bill in full, LeValley-Cocovinis says it's still a good idea to get your paperwork in on time. "It eliminates the failure-to-file penalty and cuts the failure-to-pay penalty in half, so at least that reduces the extra in penalties you'll owe," she says.

It also lowers the amount of unpaid taxes that is subject to interest charges.

"They know you owe, and they will find you," says LeValley-Cocovinis. "Not doing anything is always worse."

12. Audit pain can be reduced

One of the best ways to avoid an unwanted call from the IRS is to file your return on time. Other ways to keep auditors at bay, or at least get rid of them quickly if they do show up, is to keep good records.

LeValley-Cocovinis says the IRS tends to look more closely at things that require substantiation. If you're self-employed or use your car or cell phone for business, the IRS will want proof.

And know the rules. In the case of mobile phones, for example, LeValley-Cocovinis says that for the device to qualify as a business deduction, you must use it more than 50 percent of the time for business purposes. If not, it's a personal, nondeductible expense.

"The tax devil is in the details, so keep the detailed records," she says. "If you don't like writing those things down, get a minirecorder.

"These are the type of deductions they will pursue, not necessarily thinking that they're false, but because they have the best chance to be knocked out because they can't be substantiated."

And while high-income filers are a target because the IRS expects to get a bigger return on investigations in the top tax range, less wealthy taxpayers also face scrutiny.

In fact, a tax break designed especially for lower-income filers, the Earned Income Tax Credit, gets closely examined each year. The EITC is complicated and requires a lot of authentication. If you file for this credit, be sure to have all the required Social Security numbers and proof that you're eligible in case the IRS questions your claim.

13. Simple can be costly

Filling out tax forms is tedious and often frustrating, so many people look to file the easiest possible return they can.

This isn't necessarily a bad idea, as long as you make sure that a simpler return fits your tax situation.

The 1040EZ is the shortest and easiest to complete. The 1040A is a bit more complex, but offers a few more tax-saving opportunities. And the long 1040 is the most detailed and potentially difficult, but it provides the most chances to cut your tax bill.

By taking the EZ-filing route, you might save time but you won't be able to write off, for example, moving expenses or claim any education credits. By forgoing those breaks simply to get through tax paperwork more quickly, you probably will end up paying more taxes than you should.

And that's definitely a tax lesson that none of us wants to sit through.


Show Bankrate's community sharing policy
          Connect with us

Connect with us