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The 5 Fastest Ways to Fix Your Tax Filing to Maximize Refunds

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Tax season is here, and millions of Americans are filing their Form 1040 in hope of a tax refund. Depending on your income and personal finances, you might have a simple, straightforward tax return. But if you’re not careful, you might make costly tax mistakes.

Many Americans have misunderstandings about tax returns and tax deductions. Fortunately, there is help available for you — whether it’s free tax filing software or professional tax advice.

Let’s look at a few ways to avoid tax mistakes and maximize your refund this tax season.

1. File your tax return on time — but not too early

One of the common tax return mistakes listed on the IRS website is filing tax returns too early. Some people are so eager to get their taxes done that they file their return too soon — only to discover that they forgot to include important information.

If you file taxes too soon, you might fail to report some of your income. You might miss out on claiming valuable deductions. You might have to file an amended return to make sure you get the full tax refund that you deserve — or end up paying extra taxes.

The deadline for most taxpayers to file federal tax returns for 2023 is April 15, 2024. Take your time. Make sure you’ve gathered all the W-2s, 1099s, and other IRS tax forms that show how much income you earned and how many deductions you can take.

2. If your income is $79,000 or less, use free tax-filing software

You don’t have to struggle through your tax return alone. Tax-filing software can help you avoid mistakes and maximize your refund with an accurate return. And if your income is below a certain level, you don’t have to pay for the software.

That’s right: taxpayers with adjusted gross income (AGI) of $79,000 or less are allowed to file taxes for free. The IRS Free File program lets you choose guided tax software from a trusted IRS partner to prepare your tax return for free. Many private-sector tax software companies also let you file your taxes for free, based on your income. (State income tax returns could cost extra, though.)

3. Double-check for all available tax deductions

One advantage of using tax prep software is that it will lead you through a series of questions about your personal finances and family. This helps uncover all the possible tax deductions that you might qualify for.

A few common tax deductions that you might see on your tax return could include:

  • Money you put into a traditional IRA: up to $6,500 for 2023 ($7,500 if you’re age 50 or older)
  • Money you put into a health savings account (HSA): Up to $3,850 for single coverage, or up to $7,750 for family coverage for 2023
  • Standard deduction: $13,850 for single filers, $27,700 for married filing jointly in 2023

4. Crunch the numbers to see if you can itemize deductions

Approximately 87% of tax returns use the standard deduction, but itemized deductions can help you get a bigger tax refund. Most taxpayers do not have enough of the right kinds of deductions to be able to itemize, but it’s worth checking (and double-checking) before you file your return.

A few common types of itemized deductions include:

  • Home mortgage interest
  • Donations to charity
  • State and local taxes up to $10,000 (including real estate/property taxes if you own your home)
  • Medical and dental expenses greater than 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI)

Before you file your tax return, add up any of your itemizable deductions and see if it’s larger than the amount of your standard deduction. (Tax software should help you do this, too.) For example, if you’re a single filer who owns your own home, and you paid $8,000 of home mortgage interest and $10,000 of state and local taxes in 2023, you can itemize deductions — because $18,000 is larger than your single filer’s standard deduction of $13,850.

If you make substantial donations to charity, including your church or other faith community, you could also qualify for itemized deductions. But whether you itemize or take the standard deduction, you should always take the deduction that is the biggest number. As a taxpayer, you have the right to take the biggest deduction that you qualify for.

5. Ask for a tax-filing extension if you need more time

April 15 is not an ironclad deadline for filing your tax return. If you have a complex tax situation, a family emergency, or just need more time to get your tax paperwork in order, you can get an extension.

All taxpayers, no matter how much income you make, can use IRS Free File to request a tax-filing extension. This gives you an extra six months to file your 2023 taxes — until Oct. 15, 2024. However, keep in mind that even if you file your tax return on Oct. 15, you still have to pay any taxes owed by April 15. And if the IRS owes you a refund, you’ll have to wait even longer to get that money in your bank account.

Bottom line

Tax season isn’t most people’s idea of a good time, but it doesn’t have to be super stressful. Plan ahead, find your tax documents, and give yourself enough time to file your taxes accurately. There is free tax software available for many people who have qualifying income. And if your tax return is so complicated that you need extra time, you can file an extension.

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