Taxes: The Top 10 Mistakes People Make When Filing Their Tax Return
The middle of April is one of the most stressful stretches of the year for millions of Americans. But often, that’s needlessly so. April 18 is the day that your taxes are due this year — the day by which you need to have sent the government your tax return. Many people either procrastinate when doing their taxes, remain willfully and blissfully ignorant of it, or lose their minds trying to nail down every possible deduction.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can save yourself time, stress, and often money by taking some simple preparatory steps. We all make mistakes when preparing our tax return. Most of them are entirely avoidable.
It’s not difficult to make a mistake of some sort during the filing process, especially as the tax code continues to grow in both length and complexity. Chances are good that if you make a small error, the IRS won’t come knocking. But it will take longer to process your return, and the IRS might even need to contact you in order to make the necessary corrections. This will almost certainly delay your refund. In some cases, such as with unreported earnings, you might owe penalties and interest.
The good news? The most common filing errors are often the simplest. That means these mistakes are easy to make but also easy to correct. According to the IRS, people who do their taxes on paper are about 20 times more likely to make an error than e-filers. Whether you choose to file online or mail in your return, carefully read over all of your forms prior to filing to ensure you haven’t made one of these eight frequent errors the IRS warns against. You also can check out the IRS’s more comprehensive checklist of preparation errors.
Including those from the IRS, here are 10 common mistakes people make when filing their taxes.
1. Wrong or missing Social Security numbers
An incorrect or missing Social Security number is a huge problem on tax forms. To avoid a headache for both you and the IRS, check the number for accuracy several times. If you are filing jointly, don’t forget to double-check your spouse’s social security number, as well. Interestingly enough, Social Security numbers aren’t the only things that people commonly screw up.
2. Misspelled names
Spelling your own name right might seem too obvious to mention, but misspelled names are actually incredibly common on tax forms. The name of each person included on your tax return has to be spelled correctly — unless you want the IRS to think you’re someone else. This means the name has to exactly match the spelling on that individual’s Social Security card. Take a few seconds to proofread your return for accuracy. It might seem stupid, but it’s a common mistake.
3. Incorrect filing status
Selecting the wrong filing status is a fairly common error, as well. Some taxpayers incorrectly select “Head of Household” instead of “Single,” and others make the mistake of checking more than one status. It’s easy to sympathize with those who make the error because the designations can seemingly apply to the same individual. The “What is my filing status?” tool on the IRS website can help you determine the correct choice if you are not sure.
4. Math mistakes
Most tax forms require several calculations, and it’s not difficult to get bogged down by all the different figures and terminology. Slow down, use a calculator, and fill out the forms and worksheets more than once to check your work. One miscalculation at the very beginning can skew the results of the entire worksheet. An incorrect number can cause you to lose out on a bigger refund — or even trigger an audit.
5. Errors figuring out credits or deductions
Taxpayers frequently make mistakes figuring their Earned Income Tax Credit, Child and Dependent Care Credit, and/or standard deduction. For example, those who are older than 65 or blind should claim the higher standard deduction. This is one of the most difficult aspects of doing your taxes to navigate. If you’re in too deep, ask a professional for help. If you want to go it alone, follow all instructions carefully, and reach out to the IRS for help if you need it.
6. Wrong bank account numbers
Many filers now choose to receive their annual refunds via direct deposit. In theory, this simplifies the process both for the filer and the IRS, but one incorrect character can cause major problems. The last thing you want is your return ending up in someone else’s bank account, right?
If you screw up and your money ends up in another person’s account, the IRS says you’ll have to take it up with the bank. Check your bank account number more than once to ensure you receive your deposit quickly and safely.
7. Forms not signed or dated
Crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s: It should be the easiest part of filing your taxes. Oddly enough, the IRS says failing to sign or date forms is one of the more common mistakes it sees.
Once you have gotten through all the hard work of filling out the necessary tax forms, make sure you’ve signed and dated all the necessary items. The IRS considers an unsigned tax return totally invalid, much like an unsigned check. Remember both spouses are required to sign and date a joint return.
8. Electronic filing PIN errors
When you file online, you are required to sign your return electronically using a PIN number. You can request a PIN from the IRS via the website. Alternatively, you can enter the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) figure from your previous year’s tax return. However, you don’t want to use the AGI amount from an amended return or a return the IRS corrected. If you can’t remember or find your PIN, the IRS has a retrieval system to help you track it down.
9. Reporting additional income
Another less obvious but very common error is failing to report additional income. This includes income earned through contract or freelance work detailed on a 1099-MISC or earnings from a savings or investment account found on a 1099-INT or 1099 DIV. The IRS doesn’t like this and could see discrepancies in income and expenses as reported by you and the people you worked for. Failing to report income might earn you an audit if you’re not careful.
10. Missing the April 15 deadline
One of the worst and most common mistakes a taxpayer can make is missing the April 18 filing deadline (typically April 15). While many people probably have circled the date on their calendar, it’s easy to procrastinate and forget about it. And then, sometime in late March, you realize you have to scramble to get in order.
If you don’t file for an extension, you’ll probably be hit with fees and penalties. The IRS will let you know you missed the deadline, but if you don’t want to needlessly be hit with interest, be sure to file on time.
Chloe Della Costa also contributed to this article.