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Last Minute Tax Help

Last Minute Tax Help
Taxes are due April 15

    The deadline for filing your federal income tax return (if you’re a U.S. citizen) is five days away. If you haven’t gotten around to filing yet, you’re in good company: one-third of all Americans file in the two weeks just before the deadline, and TurboTax reports that 200,000 taxpayers used their software in the last two days alone. The IRS has actually made it easier to file your taxes at the very last moment, and offers other choices for taxpayers feeling a too-tight deadline. You still have options, although I’m not an accountant or a tax lawyer and your situation may require the advice of a tax professional.

    Make Sure You Need to File

    According to the IRS, millions of people file tax returns every year even though their incomes are below the minimum required to file. In general, that means that it’s worthwhile checking to make sure that you actually have to file — although this year is a special case. That economic stimulus check the government’s promised? You are absolutely required to file a tax return in order to get your $600. If you made less than $3,000 total in 2007, however, go ahead and skip the paperwork.

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    In most years, however, the question of whether to file a tax return boils down to whether you either expect a refund or expect to owe the government more money. If neither of these cases apply to you, you may be able to skip the paperwork. The IRS offers a page that can help you decide based on your answers to a series of questions.

    File Electronically

    80 million taxpayers filed electronically last year. The IRS brags about the greater accuracy of electronic filing, the faster processing of refunds and the ability to avoid postage. But what we procrastinators really care about is the fact that we can file 24 hours a day and 7 days a week — even the night of April 14th.

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    To file online, you’ll need the same paperwork you would to fill out your 1040 by hand:

    • Last year’s tax return
    • Social Security cards for your dependents, if any
    • W-2s from all your employers
    • 1099s from any other income you received, as well as income receipts from real estate, royalties, trusts, Social Security and other sources of income
    • Any receipts pertaining to your small business

    If you plan to itemize your deductions, you’ll also need the paperwork to document your itemizations — claiming the standard deduction may be faster if you get down to the wire, but many taxpayers could save a lot of money by itemizing.

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    Once you’ve gathered up the necessary paperwork, you’ll need to choose your e-file provider. To file electronically, the IRS requires taxpayers to go through authorized e-file providers: companies that are not actually affiliated with the IRS but have been authorized to file electronically through secure methods. These companies are broken down into two groups — Free File options and e-File options.

    Free File providers do just what the name says: they allow you to file your tax return for free. There is a catch though: you are only eligible to use Free File if your adjusted gross income for the year was under $54,000. To find your AGI, add up any income you received including wages, alimony, unemployment compensation, capital gains and anything else you can think of and subtract off your deductions using the standard deduction can make the process go faster if you aren’t sure just what deductions you are eligible for.

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    Everyone making over $54,000 but wanting to file electronically must pick an authorized provider off of the IRS’ list. To be honest, most of these companies operate in pretty much the same way and have similar pricing. However, many do not offer state tax preparation. It’s up to you to find a provider who can also determine your state tax burden and help you file. To make matters harder, there are still a few states that do not accept electronically filed tax returns.

    Request an Extension

    For some of us, even filing electronically won’t get our paperwork in before April 15th. The IRS does give taxpayers the option of requesting an extension until August 15th. You have to submit Form 4868 (PDF), which is actually pretty easy to fill out: you list your name, address, Social Security number and answer four questions about the taxes you owe for the year. You can send in the form through the mail, electronically or through an authorized outside service provider. There’s only one drawback to the extension process — no matter why you might request an extension, you must pay whatever taxes you expect to owe when you submit your Form 4868. Uncle Sam doesn’t care so much about the paperwork, because he still gets your money. File for an extension without paying off your estimated balance and the IRS can slap you with some serious fees and penalties, making it worthwhile to over-estimate and err on the side of caution when making your payment. You’ll still get your refund, although it can take an extra four months.

    File Regardless

    Before April 15th rolls around, it’s crucial to have filed something with the IRS. File a tax return or a request for an extension — either way, you’ve filed. As long as the IRS has a Form 1040 or a Form 4868 (and that all important check from anyone owing taxes beyond what may have been automatically deducted), you’re cool with the IRS. It’s the guy who’s required to file, but hasn’t, who will be having trouble down the line.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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