The sooner you get your money back from the IRS, the better, so start now. Get your taxes done faster and more accurately with these steps.
If you want to get your 2009 taxes in early and get your refund quickly, here are Schnepper’s Seven Strategies to getting those dollars in your pockets ASAP. Here’s what you have to do:
1. Get started
The first step is the hardest. Stop thinking about it and get moving. Until you actually start your return, you’ll never finish it. That’s probably going to slow down your refund.
If you don’t have all your numbers, just put your name and address on the form. It will get you in the mindset to move forward.
Your first step is to break the inertia. As my father used to say, a trip of a thousand miles begins with a traffic jam! Break that jam and get moving.
2. Accumulate the data
January is collection month. By the second week of February, you should have the numbers in hand. Make sure you’ve gotten W-2s and any statements from your brokers and banks. You’ll receive 1099 forms for any interest, dividends and stock sales.
Your mortgage company will send you a Form 1098 for any interest and real-estate taxes paid. Get those statements together and review the numbers. They’re not always right. They won’t include any interest you paid at the very end of December because the creditor won’t have received the money until 2010.
3. Put the numbers in IRS categories
Neither the Internal Revenue Service nor your CPA is going to add up those numbers for you. Well, maybe your CPA. Many years ago, a psychiatrist near Philadelphia paid me $150 an hour to open his mail because he couldn’t be bothered.
You’re going to want to have totals for the income and deduction categories the IRS provides. You’ll need those final numbers if you’re doing your own return, whether by hand or by computer. If you’re having your return prepared, you’ll want to give those numbers to your CPA to minimize his or her bill.
I suggest my clients use what I call the envelope system. You create an envelope for each of the IRS income/deduction categories. There’ll be an envelope for medical expenses, charitable contributions, job expenses, interest paid, etc. Find all the receipts, all the checks, all the invoices and put each in the appropriate envelope.
If you live in a state without an income tax, don’t forget to look for numbers for a possible deduction of sales taxes. Those states are Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming. This year, you may qualify to deduct sales tax on a new car and some real-estate taxes on a principal residence even if you claim the standard deduction.
In 2008, Congress extended a number of tax breaks, including the sales-tax and college-expense deductions; the agency also increased the tax-free contribution limits to health savings accounts. These breaks remain available for your 2009 tax returns. And don’t forget about the new breaks, including credits for energy improvements, the new American Opportunity tax credit for college education costs and the credits for buying a new home. Both first-time homeowners and those who have had a principal residence for five consecutive years out of the last eight may qualify.
You can use this simple system all year. Throw all of your receipts into a file or even a shoe box. When you reconcile your checking account, on a monthly or at least a quarterly basis, you break down the checks and receipts according to the categories you selected.
By the end of January, you should have all your checks and receipts broken down in each envelope by deduction category. You add up the receipts and checks (don’t double count!), and those are the numbers you use on your return or give to your preparer.
That’s how much you’ve spent in each deduction category. And, with this system, you never have to fear an audit.
An audit is nothing more than the IRS asking you to prove the numbers you put on your return. You’ve already done that. Just hand over the deduction-category envelope with the receipts and checks. After a series of matches, it’s going to be a quick audit.
4. Analyze the numbers
Sometimes, the raw numbers you have are going to be wrong.
On the income side, you’re required to report any and all interest and dividends received, even if you don’t receive a Form 1099.
You’ll have to match up the sales of stock with the cost of those shares. The number shown by your broker on Form 1099-B is only the sale price. You’re not taxed on 100% of that number. You reduce it, on Schedule D of your return, by your cost, including broker’s fees. You’re only taxed on the net profit.
If you don’t sell 100% of your position, you’ll have to allocate your costs on a per-share basis.
On the deduction side, you may have deductions not reflected by the raw data.
Say you made your Jan. 1, 2010, mortgage payment on Dec. 31, 2009. The interest you paid won’t be reflected on the Form 1098 sent by your mortgage company. That’s because they didn’t get the check or the online payment until 2010. (If you paid online, be sure your bank records the date that you send the payment properly. A canceled check is still adequate proof.)
Paying before the end of the year transforms your January 2010 payment into a 2009 deduction, and you should run an amortization schedule to compute the additional interest. That additional interest would be shown on line 11 of your Schedule A (.pdf file).
(You can make the same tax move at the end of 2010, converting what would normally be a January 2011 payment into a 2010 deduction.)
5. Call your accountant
If you’re going to have your return professionally prepared, call your accountant now for an appointment.
I know, you’re her favorite client. But if you want an appointment tomorrow, you better call her yesterday.
In any case, once you’ve made that appointment, you’ve made a commitment to get that return done. And that means you’ve committed to get ready yourself. Just make sure you’ve got the numbers in order when you show up. Your wallet will appreciate it.
6. Put ink to paper
At least open the tax program on your computer. You’ve got your numbers. If you’re doing your own return, put ink to paper. Go to your quiet place and actually do your return.
You’ve done the real work. Now you’re just putting numbers in boxes. Relax; this is really the easy part. Remember, we started with how to get your refund faster.
7. Mail your return
A completed return on your desk that calls for a refund is the IRS’ idea of heaven. It’s your money. Don’t leave it with the IRS. It’s bad enough that they’ve held it all year without paying you any interest on your excess payment. Don’t compound the pain by delaying the mailing.
Of course, the best way to speed up your return is to e-file. A record 95 million tax returns were e-filed in 2009, according to the IRS.
The IRS appreciates the cost savings and claims it expedites your refund. The IRS is offering what it bills as a free e-filing service. It’s not quite free. You may still have to pay a “transmitter” to convert your return into IRS code and send it on.
In either case, electing a direct deposit of your refund will always get it into your hands faster than snail mail. About 73 million taxpayers used direct deposit for their 2008 refunds, up from a year earlier.
Complete lines 73(b), (c) and (d) of your Form 1040, and, coupled with an e-filed return, in theory you could have your refund in your bank account in as little as 24 hours.