10 common tax-filing mistakes to avoid

6. Filing status errors

Make sure you choose the correct filing status for your situation. You have 5 options, and each could make a difference in your ultimate tax bill.

If this is the first tax-filing season since your divorce and you now are a single parent, writing "head of household" probably will be more beneficial. And what if you're still married, but you and your spouse are thinking about filing separate tax returns? That works in some cases, but not all.

Make sure you know what each tax-filing status entails, and choose the one that best fits your personal tax situation.

7. Social Security number oversights

Because the IRS stopped putting taxpayer Social Security numbers on tax package labels in response to privacy concerns, some taxpayers forget to write in their identification numbers. Your tax ID number is crucial because there are so many transactions -- income statements, savings account interest, retirement plan contributions -- keyed to this number.

The 9-digit sequence also is vital to claim several tax credits, such as the child tax and additional child tax credits, as well as ones for educational expenses and dependent care costs.

8. Complete charitable contributions

Do you give to charitable groups? All types of donations, from cash to cars, could be valuable tax deductions, so make sure you count them all when you file. Be sure to follow the donation tax rules, the most important being that you give to a qualified organization -- that is, one that has tax-exempt status with the IRS. Also be careful when calculating any gifts of clothing and household items. Tax law now requires that these donations be in good or better condition or the deduction is disallowed. And remember that the amount you can claim for donated goods is the fair market value of the items; that's what a willing buyer would pay for it in its current condition, not what you paid for it.

9. Signature required

Sign and date your return. The IRS won't process it if it's missing a John Hancock, and that means on e-filed returns, too. Taxpayers filing electronically must sign the return electronically using a personal identification number, or PIN. To verify your identity, you'll have to provide the PIN you used last year or your adjusted gross income from your previous year's tax return.

Your tax software should walk you through the e-signature process, but if you're still mailing your return, don't be in such a hurry that you stuff your 1040 in the envelope without signing it. And if it's a joint filing, both you and your spouse must sign.

10. Missing the deadline

Millions of taxpayers got extensions to file their tax returns in October instead of April. That's fine. The IRS actually appreciates having a little less to do in April, especially since it already got any tax you owed when you filed Form 4868 to get an extension 6 months ago.

But if you miss this ultimate Oct. 15 deadline, Uncle Sam will start assessing penalties and interest on any additional tax you might owe.

Nobody wants to pay Uncle Sam a penny more than necessary, so don't make the mistake of missing the filing deadline. So make sure you get your paper return to the post office so it can be postmarked by Oct. 15. If you're e-filing, and the IRS' Free File program is still open, be sure to hit "enter" by midnight Oct. 15.


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Our tax expert Kay Bell provides resourceful tips and advice to help you stay prepared for filing.


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