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6 easy tax mistakes to avoid this tax season

These user errors can delay your refund or cost you money.

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Tetra Images | Tetra images | Getty Images

Tax season is here, and Americans can now file their 2022 taxes with the IRS. If you're looking forward to a tax refund this year, filing an accurate, error-free return is the best action you can take to receive that refund as soon as possible.

According to the most recent data from the IRS, about 12 million of the returns filed for the 2020 tax year had a math error. Depending on the mistake, an incorrect return could cause you to pay more than you actually owe in taxes or saddle you with penalties and interest fees

While you can fix many mistakes on your tax return after filing, it's far better (and more convenient) to get it right the first time around. "You don't want to amend your return unless you have to," says Luis Rivero Vazquez, a CPA and Director of Tax at Taxfyle.

Watch out for these six common mistakes that trip up millions of taxpayers to make sure nothing stands in the way of your return.

1. Make sure you have all your documents before you file

If you haven't received all the tax documents you need yet (or aren't sure what you even need), you're not ready to file your taxes.

"The most common mistake that you'll see is that a taxpayer will go to an accountant or go to do their taxes through a self-preparing mechanism and they'll do it without everything they need," says Vazquez.

Collect all of the documents you need for the income you earned through work, such as W-2s from all the employers you had during the tax year and any 1099 forms from earnings like freelance income. Depending on your financial activity, you'll also need forms for investments, health savings accounts, and retirement income.

The IRS has helpfully compiled a list of tax documents and under what circumstances they're required for filing. Make sure you check it before sending in your return.

"What might happen is that [a taxpayer will] say 'oh, hey, I'm getting this huge refund, but I forgot my crypto, or I forgot the small investment that I sold that I need to pay taxes on.'" Not having all the information you need could mean that you're over or underpaying your taxes.

2. Double-check your credits and deductions

If you claim any tax credits or deductions on your return, bust out the calculator and make sure your math adds up. Otherwise, you're setting yourself up for a potentially expensive surprise bill from the IRS.

This is where tax preparation software like TurboTax and TaxAct come in handy. These programs will walk you through your eligible deductions and credits and help minimize the chance of user error.

TurboTax

On TurboTax's secure site
  • Cost

    Costs may vary depending on the plan selected - click "Learn More" for details

  • Free version

    TurboTax Free Edition. ~37% of taxpayers qualify. Form 1040 + limited credits only.

  • Mobile app

    Yes

  • Live support

    Available with some pricing and filing options

Click here for TurboTax offer details and disclosures. Terms apply.

Pros

  • Step-by-step guidance with a Q&A format that is easy to follow
  • TurboTax Live provides on-demand advice and a final review from a tax expert
  • Live Full Service has a tax expert prepare, sign, and file your return
  • Audit support, which provides free assistance if you get an IRS or other tax notice

Cons

  • More costly than other software programs
  • Live expert assistance plans have additional costs

TaxAct

On TaxAct's secure site
  • Cost

    $0 to $69.99 federal, $39.99 per state (see breakdown by plan below)

  • Free version

    Yes

  • Mobile app

    Yes

  • Tax expert support

    Yes, costs extra

Terms apply.

Pros

  • Up to $100,000 accuracy guarantee, which reimburses you for IRS/state penalty or interest if the TaxAct software causes a calculation error in your return
  • More affordable than other paid software
  • Free one-on-one support from real tax experts with all plans
  • Maximum refund and 100% accuracy guarantee, or TaxAct will refund the plan fees you paid and pay any difference in the refund or tax liability, plus cover any legal or audit costs up to $100,000

Cons

  • Free plan charges per state return

Cost breakdown by plan:

  • Free (only covers simple returns): $0 federal, $39.99 per state
  • Deluxe (helps you maximize credits and deductions): $29.99 federal, $39.99 per state
  • Premier (includes returns with investments and expenses): $39.99 federal, $33.99 per state
  • Self-employed (for personal and business income and expenses): $69.99 federal, $39.99 per state

While tax software helps stop math mistakes from creeping into your return, it still depends on you to enter data that's correct. For example, if you tell the software you have 4 dependents when you actually have none, the program doesn't have any way to know that's incorrect.

3. Look over your whole return

You can't be too careful when checking the numbers throughout your tax return.

Vazquez recommends paying close attention to your adjusted gross income, any charitable contributions or medical expenses (if you itemize your deductions), and the amount of tax you've already paid through withholding or estimated tax payments.

Whether you've done your taxes yourself, or had a certified public accountant (CPA) or enrolled agent (EA) do your taxes for you, make sure to look over the full return.

"You shouldn't just sign it," Vazquez says. "As a person, I'd want to know 'Did this agree to an extent with what I was expecting?' If it doesn't, can the CPA or the EA explain to me why was I wrong?"

Lastly, check that your name and Social Security number are accurate — they should match the name and number on your Social Security card. Lastly, double-check your bank account number and routing number if you want your refund direct deposited.

4. Confirm your filing status

You have five options when it comes to choosing your filing status:

  • Single, for anyone who is not legally married.
  • Married filing jointly, for when you and your spouse want to file a joint tax return.
  • Married filing separately, for when you and your spouse want to file individual returns
  • Head of household, for when you're unmarried and paying more than half the cost of maintaining your home. In addition, you must have a qualifying person living in that home for at least half a year. Other rules may also apply to claim this status.
  • Qualifying widow or widower with a dependent child, for when your spouse died during the previous two years (other rules also apply).

If your filing status is wrong, it could be costly. "You could end up paying a lot more tax if you're not choosing the right one," Vazquez says.

If you've had a big life change (such as a marriage or divorce), double-check that your filing status is correct before signing and sending in your tax return.

5. Be sure your tax return is signed

As you finish your taxes, the final step is to sign your return. The IRS reminds taxpayers that an unsigned tax return isn't valid.

If you're filing jointly, both spouses must sign the return. If you're filing as a single person, make sure you've signed your return before submitting it.

6. Check to make sure it was accepted

Don't completely wipe your return from your mind after you submit it. "Get a confirmation that your return got filed on time and that you have something that says your return with your Social Security number got accepted," Vazquez says.

This can be done through your accountant, or one of the IRS's online tools, including the Where's My Refund tool, or by making an account online with the IRS.

Once you're certain the government has accepted your return, then you can congratulate yourself on successfully finishing your taxes for the year.

Bottom line

A correct tax return helps you receive your tax refund as soon as possible. Check the entire return for the common mistakes or inaccuracies described above, and don't be shy about relying on tax software (or a professional) if you want extra peace of mind about filing.

Catch up on Select's in-depth coverage of personal financetech and toolswellness and more, and follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter to stay up to date.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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