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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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    Last Updated on November 5, 2019

    How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

    How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

    Assuming the public school system didn’t crush your soul, learning is a great activity. It expands your viewpoint. It gives you new knowledge you can use to improve your life. It is important for your personal growth. Even if you discount the worldly benefits, the act of learning can be a source of enjoyment.

    “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” — Mark Twain

    But in a busy world, it can often be hard to fit in time to learn anything that isn’t essential. The only things learned are those that need to be. Everything beyond that is considered frivolous. Even those who do appreciate the practice of lifelong learning, can find it difficult to make the effort.

    Here are some tips for installing the habit of continuous learning:

    1. Always Have a Book

    It doesn’t matter if it takes you a year or a week to read a book. Always strive to have a book that you are reading through, and take it with you so you can read it when you have time.

    Just by shaving off a few minutes in-between activities in my day I can read about a book per week. That’s at least fifty each year.

    2. Keep a “To-Learn” List

    We all have to-do lists. These are the tasks we need to accomplish. Try to also have a “to-learn” list. On it you can write ideas for new areas of study.

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    Maybe you would like to take up a new language, learn a skill or read the collective works of Shakespeare. Whatever motivates you, write it down.

    3. Get More Intellectual Friends

    Start spending more time with people who think. Not just people who are smart, but people who actually invest much of their time in learning new skills. Their habits will rub off on you.

    Even better, they will probably share some of their knowledge with you.

    4. Guided Thinking

    Albert Einstein once said,

    “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

    Simply studying the wisdom of others isn’t enough, you have to think through ideas yourself. Spend time journaling, meditating or contemplating over ideas you have learned.

    5. Put it Into Practice

    Skill based learning is useless if it isn’t applied. Reading a book on C++ isn’t the same thing as writing a program. Studying painting isn’t the same as picking up a brush.

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    If your knowledge can be applied, put it into practice.

    In this information age, we’re all exposed to a lot of information, it’s important to re-learn how to learn so as to put the knowledge into practice.

    6. Teach Others

    You learn what you teach. If you have an outlet of communicating ideas to others, you are more likely to solidify that learning.

    Start a blog, mentor someone or even discuss ideas with a friend.

    7. Clean Your Input

    Some forms of learning are easy to digest, but often lack substance.

    I make a point of regularly cleaning out my feed reader for blogs I subscribe to. Great blogs can be a powerful source of new ideas. But every few months, I realize I’m collecting posts from blogs that I am simply skimming.

    Every few months, purify your input to save time and focus on what counts.

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    8. Learn in Groups

    Lifelong learning doesn’t mean condemning yourself to a stack of dusty textbooks. Join organizations that teach skills.

    Workshops and group learning events can make educating yourself a fun, social experience.

    9. Unlearn Assumptions

    You can’t add water to a full cup. I always try to maintain a distance away from any idea. Too many convictions simply mean too few paths for new ideas.

    Actively seek out information that contradicts your worldview.

    Our minds can’t be trusted, but this is what we can do about it to be wiser.

    10. Find Jobs that Encourage Learning

    Pick a career that encourages continual learning. If you are in a job that doesn’t have much intellectual freedom, consider switching to one that does.

    Don’t spend forty hours of your week in a job that doesn’t challenge you.

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    11. Start a Project

    Set out to do something you don’t know how. Forced learning in this way can be fun and challenging.

    If you don’t know anything about computers, try building one. If you consider yourself a horrible artist, try a painting.

    12. Follow Your Intuition

    Lifelong learning is like wandering through the wilderness. You can’t be sure what to expect and there isn’t always an end goal in mind.

    Letting your intuition guide you can make self-education more enjoyable. Most of our lives have been broken down to completely logical decisions, that making choices on a whim has been stamped out.

    13. The Morning Fifteen

    Productive people always wake up early. Use the first fifteen minutes of your morning as a period for education.

    If you find yourself too groggy, you might want to wait a short time. Just don’t put it off later in the day where urgent activities will push it out of the way.

    14. Reap the Rewards

    Learn information you can use. Understanding the basics of programming allows me to handle projects that other people would require outside help. Meeting a situation that makes use of your educational efforts can be a source of pride.

    15. Make Learning a Priority

    Few external forces are going to persuade you to learn. The desire has to come from within. Once you decide you want to make lifelong learning a habit, it is up to you to make it a priority in your life.

    More About Continuous Learning

    Featured photo credit: Paul Schafer via unsplash.com

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