7 Last-Minute Tax Tips

This year's April 17 tax deadline is just days away--do you know where your tax returns are? If you're still putting the finishing touches on them, here are seven last-minute tax tips to make sure you steer clear of penalties, unnecessary audits, and mistakes:

1. You can still file an extension.

While taxpayers still have to pay any money owed to Uncle Sam by April 17, almost anyone can apply for the automatic six-month extension by filing Form 4868, available through the IRS website. Just be sure to estimate and pay any money that you might owe to avoid fees and other penalties later.

2. It's not too late to make tax-deductible IRA contributions.

Anyone eligible to contribute to an IRA can still do so up until April 17. Those contributions are tax-deductible, so you can enjoy a tax benefit as well as a retirement-savings boost.

3. Filing electronically can be quicker.

There's no need to wait in line at the Post Office to guarantee an April 17 postmark if you file electronically. And taxpayers earning less than $57,000 a year can use name-brand software at no charge. Refunds generally arrive quicker for e-filers, as well. Visit to get started.

4. Even when rushing, do a careful review.

The most common filing mistakes are simple ones: incorrect math, numbers that don't match across different forms, and mismatched names, especially among people who recently changed their name because of marriage (or divorce). People with recent changes to their households, such as children moving out or in, also often forget to update their tax status to reflect their current reality. Avoiding those mistakes can result in more accurate tax forms (and possibly reduce your overall tax burden).

5. Don't forget this year's newest forms.

The IRS beefed up its requirements for certain taxpayers this year, including a new form for investors on sales or exchanges of capital assets, a new form for significant foreign assets (over $50,000 for single taxpayers), and new reporting requirements for small business owners who receive payments through online processors such as PayPal.

6. Get organized for next year now.

One of the biggest impediments to filing earlier is the sheer amount of paperwork that has to be organized. Make it easier on yourself next year by tracking all receipts and expenses in a file folder that's ready to go at year's end.

7. Enjoy tax-day freebies.

After squeezing in under the deadline, reward yourself by visiting one of the many retailers offering tax-day rewards, including Seattle's Best Coffee and Bruegger's. (Check the companies' Facebook pages for details.)

Twitter: @alphaconsumer

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