Getting a head start: tax return filing made simple.
First, you have to decide what you want: to make filing easy or to pay the least amount possible. The two options have different paths. If you want "easy," you may be able to cut to the chase by using one of the shorter 1040 forms. Single people who earn less than $50,000 and have no deductibles to report can zip through just 12 lines on Form 104OEZ. Next simplest is 1040A for people of any marital status who make under $50,000, but who claim income besides wages. On the other hand, if you don't qualify for either of these, or if you have enough deductibles to itemize, use the 1040.
The key to easy fifing is good recordkeeping year-round. Says IRS spokesperson Don Roberts, "If you haven't kept good records, it's going to be hard to put those numbers on the form." Keep receipts about deductible expenses--canceled checks from property tax bills, state or local income tax returns, business travel and entertainment receipts--in a file folder or envelope.
Remember, if you gave more than $250 to charity in 1995, the IRS now requires an official receipt from the charity--no more scout's honor, personal receipts or canceled checks.
Another tip from Roberts: Find out early which of the nearly 200 IRS tax forms and publications you will need. Look at your returns from last year, then call the IRS 800-TAX-FORM) and request the appropriate form. For tax questions, call 800-TAX-1040.
One of the best ways to take the hassle out of fifing is to do it on computer screen. "Not too many computers make math errors," says Roberts. Do-it-yourselfers should try using Intuit's Quicken for individuals, QuickBooks for business owners or One-Write Plus by NEBS Inc., suggests Lee A. Goss, a Pasadena, Calif.-based CPA.
But in order to get the largest refund possible, Goss advises that you let a tax professional do the digging for your deductions. "The tax code is thick, and preparing taxes isn't as simple as it seems from the instruction book. Computer software programs won't tell you all of your options."
But computing has made it possible for more than 14 million taxpayers to file electronically. Best of all, it cuts down on the wait for your refund. Your check should get out in three weeks instead of six, or even sooner if you have it deposited directly into your bank account. But you must use a tax preparer who's been accepted by the IRS electronic filing program.
Accountants will tell you they can usually find enough tax write-offs (especially on a self-employed person's returns) to more than pay for the cost of their fees. The best time to schedule an appointment? The six weeks between mid-February and the end of March.
By the way, another way to make filling less of a headache is to do it earlier. Obviously, returns mailed before the middle of February don't cost you as much waiting time as when you mail in March and April.
Finally, stay away from refund anticipation loans. These loans are made against the amount of refund money that the accountant calculates you'll get back from the government. Although they're tempting, fees and the effective rate of interest (up to 97% on an annual basis) far outweigh the amount you receive.
RELATED ARTICLE: WISE WORDS
H. JEFFREY VINCENT, INVESTMENT BROKER WITH A.G. EDWARDS & SONS in White Plains, N.Y. (800-888-9300 ext. 359), says parents saving for their child's education should consider opening a Uniformed Gift to Minors Account. An UGMA offers a tax-saving opportunity if the assets generate less than $1,300 of unearned income per year. "Once your child reaches 14 years of age, all of the income from the account will be taxed at his or her own rate--most likely, the lowest possible rate," says Vincent. He advises maximizing this strategy by concentrating on tax-free or growth-oriented investments and then switching to higher-income investments, when they will be taxed at a lower rate.
One thing to consider: Once your child reaches 21, he or she will have control over the assets you've placed in the account. That means that the money could be used to buy a Corvette instead of a college education. In additon, Vincent says, "Some states have specific guidelines as to how funds in the account may be disbursed."
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|Date:||Jan 1, 1996|
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