Getting started on 2003 tax returns

Thursday, January 15th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Swamped in tax paperwork with nowhere to turn? Here are some tips to get started and to find help when you need it:

_Organize. Collect tax information sent by your employer and your financial institutions. Keep all tax-related receipts in one place and collect documentation for deductions. Have last year's return on hand. Pick up the appropriate forms from a post office or download them from the IRS Web site. Developing a system to keep tax information organized all year makes it easier to get started.

_Don't procrastinate. Overcome the urge to wait until April 14 to finally finish and mail your tax return. You're more likely to make a mistake or overlook possible tax savings if you're rushing to meet the April 15 deadline.

_New complications? Start your taxes early if you've experienced a major life change that might affect your taxes, like a move, marriage, birth or divorce. If you've changed your name, make sure the Social Security Administration knows so that your Social Security number matches your new name.

_Check your math. Review your return to make sure it's complete and accurate. Double-check Social Security numbers and figures copied from tax worksheets and schedules. Make sure you've added and subtracted correctly and signed the return.

_Consider electronic services. Make taxes more efficient by filing your return electronically. The IRS will immediately catch math errors and other simple mistakes in e-filed returns, sending them back to be quickly fixed. Even if you don't file electronically, speed a refund by arranging to have it deposited directly into your bank account. Or, file your return early and delay a payment to the IRS until April 15 by arranging an automatic bank withdrawal.

_Visit the IRS online at The IRS Web site holds a wealth of information about tax laws and filing requirements. A new feature called 1040 Central helps taxpayers navigate the site and find the information, instructions and forms they need.

_Get IRS Publication 17. The publication, called ``Your Federal Income Tax,'' is the single best source for help with common questions. It outlines important tax law changes for the year and walks through each part of the tax return. Download it from the IRS Web site or order it by calling the IRS at 1 (800) 829-3676 (1-800-TAX-FORM).

_Call the IRS. The IRS offers recorded messages on about 150 popular tax topics through its TeleTax service at 1 (800) 829-4477. Individuals can get more personalized help by calling the IRS at 1 (800) 829-1040 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays (all times local, except Hawaii and Alaska).

_Visit the IRS in person. Take advantage of help offered at IRS offices nationwide by appointment or on a walk-in basis. Check the IRS Web site or call the IRS at 1 (800) 829-1040 for local office locations and hours.

_Ask a volunteer. Check your local area to see if qualified volunteers are offering help during tax season. Check your local newspaper or call the IRS individual help line at 1 (800) 829-1040 to find locations for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly sites. AARP, for example, offers the AARP Tax-Aide Program from Feb. 1 to April 15 each year.

_Ask for more time. If all else fails, ask the IRS for an automatic four-month extension to file your return by filling out Form 4868. Taxpayers can also request an extension over the phone by calling 1 (888) 796-1074 or through IRS e-file.

Important: The extension applies only to the return, not to taxes owed. You will owe interest on any amount not paid by April 15, plus a late payment penalty if you haven't paid at least 90 percent of taxes due by the deadline.