Complete our 10-point tax return checklist


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You finally finished your taxes. But before you drop your return in the mailbox or hit the “send” button, do a last-minute review to ensure it’s really ready to go.

If you use tax preparation software to complete your forms, the program should help you catch some of these oversights. But if you’re one of the millions who still send paper forms, you need to pay special attention to your taxes.

Regardless of which method you use, it’s easy to make a mistake, especially when you’re hurrying to finish your return. The wrong filing status could cheat you out of tax savings. Missing or incorrect Social Security numbers could invalidate a credit and increase your tax bill. And a forgotten attachment will definitely slow the processing of your return, meaning you’ll wait longer for your refund.

Here’s a 10-point last-minute checklist to make sure your paperwork is error-free:

1. Fill out your personal information. Before the advent of computerized tax preparation, the Internal Revenue Service sent taxpayers filing packages that included a peel-off label preprinted with the filer’s name and address to stick in the top section of the tax return. No longer. To reduce its costs, the IRS makes paper filers download or order generic forms. That means you must enter your name (and your spouse’s if you’re a married joint filer) and address completely and clearly. Illegible entries make it harder for IRS workers to enter your data into the agency’s computers and will slow down processing.

2. Be sure to enter your Social Security number in the box provided on the return. To the right of your name box is space for your Social Security number. If the digits aren’t there, the IRS won’t process your return. If you and your spouse are filing a joint return, enter both tax ID numbers.

3. Check only one filing status, and make sure it’s the status that gives you the most tax advantage.

4. Count all your allowable exemptions. Each dependent you claim on your return directly translates into an exemption, a specific dollar amount you can subtract from your adjusted gross income. The lower your income amount, the less the IRS can tax you. Be sure you include each listed person’s correct Social Security number. Without it, the IRS could disallow an exemption — and for 2013 filings the $3,900 that goes with it.

5. If you’re filing a paper return, attach all your W-2 wage statements, as well as any 1099 forms if they show you had tax withheld from those accounts. If you e-file, make sure you correctly enter the amounts from these forms in the software program. The IRS will check the payment statements it receives from your employers against what you enter on your 1040.

6. If you’re filing a paper 1040 or 1040A and have used schedules with them, assemble them in the right order. Each attachment has a sequence number in the upper right-hand corner. Put them in numerical order and staple them to your return.

7. Do you owe tax? Make your check or money order payable to the United States Treasury, not the IRS. The Treasury is technically the correct recipient of our money; the IRS is simply the agency that collects it. Plus, paying the U.S. Treasury makes the “pay to” entry more secure, for you and Uncle Sam. It takes only a few pen strokes for a crook who stole your tax check to turn “IRS” into “I.R. Sims” or change the “I” to an “M” so “Mrs. Criminal” can cash your tax payment.

Also put on the check your name, address, Social Security number, daytime phone number and note in the memo area that it’s payment for 2013 Form 1040 (or 1040A or 1040EZ). Put your payment (along with the voucher from your tax package if you’re a 1040 filer) in your return envelope, but don’t staple it to the return itself.

The IRS cashes your check before it examines your return. That means your check is removed and sent to one office for deposit while your return goes to another for review. When a stapled check is pulled off, other attachments could come loose, too. Tracking them down will slow the processing of your return or force the IRS to come back to you for duplicates.

8. Sign and date the return. If you file a joint return, both spouses must sign, even if only one had income. Both signatures are required on paper forms and e-filed returns. Electronic filers sign using a Personal Identification Number, or PIN, a five-digit identifier each taxpayer selects using his or her adjusted gross income and birth date.

9. Provide a daytime phone number. It could speed the processing of your return if the IRS has questions. Joint filers can use the contact phone number for either spouse. If you paid a professional to do your return, make sure that person’s contact info is complete. And you can now refer questions about your tax return to anyone you choose, tax pro or not. Simply fill out the third-party designee line (name, tax ID number and phone number) to give the IRS permission to call that person for answers.

The third-party designee line is just above the taxpayer signature line on the 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ forms (paper and electronically filed versions). It asks, “Do you want to allow another person to discuss this return with the IRS?” By checking the “yes” box, the taxpayer gives the IRS permission to call the person specifically named to answer any questions that could arise during the processing of the return. Additional information on this option is provided in the instruction book for each return.

10. In the past few years, as the IRS has reorganized and consolidated its services, some of its return processing and service center locations have changed. Make sure you send your return to the proper place. Check inside the back cover of your tax instruction booklet for the correct mailing address for your return or use the IRS’ locator map.

Also note that there are different mailing addresses depending on whether you are paying a tax bill or getting money back. Use the correct one because it helps the IRS process returns more quickly.

Did your return pass this final inspection? Great! Send it on its way.

If not, it’s better that you, rather than the IRS, catch the mistake. The few extra minutes you spend finding and fixing an error heads off a tax encounter later. And now you can say you are done, correctly, with your taxes until next year.

Find more tax-filing information and tips in Bankrate’s Tax Guide.