Time is running out

Published 9:53 pm Tuesday, April 7, 2009

According to the Internal Revenue Service, more than 2.1 million tax returns will be filed by Alabamians this year. And, of those, approximately 420,000 will be filed in the final week, while another 116,000 will file for an extension.

Regardless of whether they are filing their taxes or seeking an extension, IRS spokesman Dan Boone said the most important thing is to file your return on time and pay on time.

“Don’t let the April 15 deadline slip by without filing a return or an extension and paying any taxes due,” Boone said.

Boone also recommended filers struggling to find a way to pay their taxes contact the IRS about payment options.

“The IRS is aware that many people are hurting financially and will try to work with them,” Boone said.

Filers who owe $25,000 or less can apply online for an IRS payment agreement. The application can be found by visiting IRS.gov and typing OPA (Online Payment Agreement) into the search box.

Another organization preparing for April 15 is the Clanton Post Office.

Postmaster Ronnie Carmichael said his office is expecting an increased number of returns mailed beginning Monday.

“We’ll see about 300, 400, 500 additional pieces beginning next week,” Carmichael said. “We will definitely see an increase over the final two days.”

Carmichael added the post office will not be extending hours at the Clanton facility but will be extending hours at the Birmingham office.

Boone and the IRS offered eight tips for last-minute filers:

File by April 15 — Avoid the late-filing penalty by sending the IRS either your tax return or an extension request (Form 4868) no later than midnight on April 15.

Pay by April 15 — If you owe taxes, avoid late-payment penalties and interest charges by paying the full amount due with the return or the extension by April 15. Payment options include electronic funds withdrawal, EFTPS and credit or debit card payments by phone or online.

File electronically — Last-minute filers tend to make more mistakes. Using tax preparation software helps make sure you get all the new tax breaks to which you’re entitled and virtually eliminates errors. And, when you e-file, you get confirmation that the IRS got your return. E-filing is fast, easy and secure, and it’s free through the Free File program at www.irs.gov if your household income last year was $56,000 or less.

File at a free tax help site — For those who need in-person help doing their taxes and whose household income was under $42,000 last year, neighborhood tax help sites staffed by trained volunteers offer free tax preparation and e-filing. Find the site closest to you by dialing 211 or by calling 800-906-9887.

Avoid these errors — Using tax software eliminates many errors but doesn’t eliminate the need to input correct information. The top errors this year involve tax ID numbers and the Recovery Rebate Credit. Use correct and valid Social Security Numbers or Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers for everyone listed on the tax return. Also, make sure you enter the correct number of stimulus payment received last year to see if you’re eligible for the 2008 Recovery Rebate Credit. If you can’t remember your stimulus payment amount, visit www.irs.gov or call 866-234-2942 to find out.

No stimulus return required — Elderly, retired and low-income filers who normally are not required to file a tax return but who filed last year only to get a stimulus payment do not need to file a tax return for 2008 unless the amount and type of their 2008 income triggers a requirement to file. There is no stimulus payment going to the general public this year.

Check eligibility for EITC — The Earned Income Tax Credit is even more important this year as more workers may qualify because their incomes were reduced last year. Generally, a family of four whose 2008 income was under $42,000 will qualify for EITC. The amount of the EITC is determined by income and family size. The average EITC amount is $2,000 and could be as much as $4,824. Use the EITC Assistant at irs.gov to see if you qualify.

Visit irs.gov for free tax services and information — Request a payment plan, check the status of your refund, find answers to tax questions —and more any time, day or night, at irs.gov If you don’t have access to the Web, call the IRS toll-free at 1-800-829-1040 for tax help.