The agency has started checking all Social Security numbers down to those you have for your new baby. Make sure the numbers are correct -- and that your name and Social Security number match up: More than a few newlyweds and divorced couples have been tripped up by not making a Social Security name change, says certified public accountant Michael Greenwald with BDO Seidman.
Errors in arithmetic or in transferring figures from one form to another will result in an immediate correction notice from the IRS. If you owe more taxes because of the mistake, you'll get an automatic bill for the additional amount.
Also, remember interest and dividend payments get reported to the IRS by your bank, broker and mutual fund. The IRS tries to match every return against these 1099 forms the agency gets by computer tape or paper, and mix-ups can trigger a notice for taxes owed.
The congressional General Accounting Office reports that half the 10 million correction notices that get sent out each year may be "incorrect, unresponsive, unclear or incomplete." So double-check yourself to make sure the IRS is right, then pay up if you owe or contact the agency if you think it's mistaken.
Other mistakes can flag your return:
* Make sure your name and any other names on your tax forms are correct. Missing, illegible or invalid names delay processing.
* Include all required paperwork including W-2 wage-and-salary forms and Schedule D for capital gains and losses.
* Make your check out to "U.S. Treasury," not the IRS.
* Sign your return.
Can't pay your federal income tax bill? Most taxpayers will find it easiest to arrange installment payments with the IRS. Form 9465, the Installment Agreement Request, lets you ask for a monthly payment plan and specify the amount you can pay each month and when you will begin payments.
The IRS currently charges 8 percent interest on installment payments, plus a one-time $43 fee, but such an arrangement is 20 times cheaper than the penalty for filing late and probably is cheaper than putting your taxes on plastic.
"Be careful about paying taxes with credit cards" when doing so can carry processing fees plus higher interest rates, says Sal Romo, head of the California Society of Enrolled Agents in Sacramento.
Even so, Americans are expected to charge $1 billion in taxes this year, up from $536 million last year, card-industry watcher Robert McKinley of CardWeb in Frederick, Md., reports.
Taxpayers who put taxes on MasterCard, American Express or Discover (Visa doesn't participate) will find processing fees generally wipe out any rewards offered by an affinity card, McKinley says. But he says using a card can pay off if you pay your tax bill in full on your next credit-card statement.
Classic, Gold or Platinum Delta SkyMiles personal credit cards can earn taxpayers double mileage while Discover cards can earn Cashback Bonus awards.
Their typical processing fee is 2 percent to 2.5 percent of the amount charged. That's $25 on a $1,000 tax bill, and the interest and late charges on your taxes keep adding up if you don't pay off that credit-card balance in the first month.(c) 2001 InsideVC.com
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