Final Tax Return Checklist

Casey Serin

You finally finished your taxes. But before you drop your return in the mailbox or hit the "send" button, do a last-minute review to ensure it's really ready to go.

If you use tax preparation software to complete your forms, the program should help you catch some of these oversights. But if you're one of the millions who still sends paper forms, you need to pay special attention to your taxes.

Regardless of which method you use, it's easy to make a mistake, especially when you're hurrying to finish your return. The wrong filing status could cheat you out of tax savings. Missing or incorrect Social Security numbers could invalidate a credit and increase your tax bill. And a forgotten attachment will definitely slow the processing of your return, meaning you'll wait longer for your refund.

Here's a 10-point last-minute checklist to make sure your paperwork is error-free:

1. Use the peel-off label, even if it's wrong. If you send in a paper return, use the label. If anything on it is wrong, simply strike through the bad information and make corrections directly on the label. If you don't have the label, write in the requested information clearly.

2. Be sure to enter your Social Security number in the box provided on the return. If it is not there, the IRS won't process your return. If you and your spouse are filing a joint return, enter both tax ID numbers.

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3. Check only one filing status, and make sure it's the status that gives you the most tax advantage.

4. Count all your allowable exemptions. Each dependent you claim on your return directly translates into an exemption, a specific dollar amount you can subtract from your adjusted gross income. The lower your income amount, the less the IRS can tax you. Be sure you include each listed person's correct Social Security number. Without it, the IRS could disallow an exemption -- and the $3,500 that goes with it.

5. If you're filing a paper return, attach all your W-2 wage statements, as well as any 1099 forms if they show you had tax withheld from those accounts. If you e-file, make sure you correctly enter the amounts from these forms in the software program. The IRS will check the payment statements it receives from your employers against what you enter on your 1040.

6. If you're filing a paper 1040 or 1040A and have used schedules with them, assemble them in the right order. Each attachment has a sequence number in the upper right-hand corner. Put them in numerical order and staple them to your return.

7. Do you owe tax? Make your check or money order payable to the United States Treasury, not the IRS. The Treasury is technically the correct recipient of our money; the IRS is simply the agency that collects it. Plus, paying the U.S. Treasury makes the "pay to" entry more secure, for you and Uncle Sam. It takes only a few pen strokes for a crook who stole your tax check to turn "IRS" into "I.R. Sims" or change the "I" to an "M" so "Mrs. Criminal" can cash your tax payment.

Also put on the check your name, address, Social Security number, daytime phone number and note in the memo area that it's payment for 2008 Form 1040 (or 1040A or 1040EZ). Put your payment (along with the voucher from your tax package if you're a 1040 filer) in your return envelope, but don't staple it to the return itself.

The IRS cashes your check before it examines your return. That means your check is removed and sent to one office for deposit while your return goes to another for review. When a stapled check is pulled off, other attachments could come loose, too. Tracking them down will slow the processing of your return or force the IRS to come back to you for duplicates.

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