1. Fib on your taxes and think you’ll pay later. Don’t cheat to get your money faster – or to avoid paying what you owe now. Lying on your return is wrong. It’s also criminal. Even assuming that you don’t get charged criminally for fraud, the IRS does track patterns of tax behaviors: if they notice a pattern of bad filing behavior (filing now to avoid paying, for example), you’ll eventually be flagged. In addition to slowing future refunds, causing delays in processing and potentially increasing your audit risk, you’ll also get socked with a pretty nasty tax bill. You’ll eventually have to pay what you owe plus penalty and interest.
2. Call your tax professional for anything other than an extension.Lean in closely for this one and listen very carefully. Your tax professional may be awesome. Your tax professional may love you as a client. Your tax professional may be thrilled to have your business. But – and this is important – your tax professional doesn’t want to hear from you today. Really. Unless you’re filing for an extension, put the phone down. It isn’t likely that you can bring in your tax information for the first time on Tax Day and expect to file a reasonably correct tax return on time: all you can do at this point in most circumstances is file for extension. And if you’ve found a mistake on your return? You’ll want to amend using good ol’ form 1040X… next week. Not today. It’s been a long, busy season. Cut your tax professional a break.
3. Spend your refund when it’s not in pocket. If your tax return says that Uncle Sam owes you money – and not the other way around – the temptation is to want to spend it. Right now. And why not? It’s good news, right? But don’t rush to the web to plan that dream vacation or plop a deposit down on a brand new car until you actually have cash in pocket. There could be a delay in processing your return or you could be subject to offset. You might have made a calculation error, overstated a deduction or understated your income. Your refund might be held due to concerns about a duplicate Social Security number or an injured spouse claim. Most of the time, IRS gets it right and statistically, refunds were processed fairly quickly this year. But Visa V +0.27% doesn’t accept “I’m eventually getting a tax refund” for payment. So be smart, plan ahead and don’t spend your refund in advance.
4. Head out for the post office at 4:55pm. If you’re going to have a Murphy’s Law moment, it’s bound to be on Tax Day. According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, deaths from traffic accidents rise 6% on Tax Day. Combine the rush with the extra stress – and in many parts of the country today (including mine), some pretty terrible weather and you’re bound to increase your odds of something bad happening. And even assuming that something terrible doesn’t happen (and I hope that it doesn’t), you don’t want to take a chance on missing that postmark. Check the post office website for post offices with extended hours today – or better yet, leave a few minutes early.
5. Call the IRS. On a routine day, the chances of the IRS actually picking up the phone are about 7 in 10. And if you are one of the lucky taxpayers to get through to IRS, you’re going to have to wait. On Tax Day, those statistics are even more dire. Don’t assume that you can camp out at your phone today and still meet your filing deadline. If you’re worried about timing, you need to file for an extensionand figure it out later (but see #7).
6. Forget to sign your return. I know the feeling. You are so glad to be done that you swoop out of the office, tax return in hand on your way to have Tax Day done for good. Don’t be so glad to be done that you forget to sign your return. A tax return is not considered timely filed if you don’t sign it properly – and if you’re married, that means both spouses have to sign. So take a moment to look your return over and make sure that your signature is at the bottom.
7. Assume you’ll figure it out later. I’m a big fan of extensions. I always say that it’s better to file a complete, correct return on extension than a rushed, flawed return by April 15. But. And it’s a big but. You need to have a follow-up plan. Filing for an extension gives you six months to get your information together to file your return. Use that six months wisely. Don’t think of an extension as another reason to procrastinate for months at a time. An extension does give you some breathing room but take advantage of the time to figure how you’re going to file and, in some cases, how you’re going to pay (just keep in mind that a filing extension doesn’t extend the time to pay).
8. Not pay at all. This is so simple that my 8 year old thought of it, reminding me that “it’s bad, right?” Yes, it is. Taxes are due today and that includes your payment, too. If you can’t pay your taxes in full, there are options available to soften the blow. But don’t just ignore it: trust me, it won’t go away.
9. Fail to take advantage of all of the cool stuff available. To ease the pain of Tax Day, many companies offer specials, deals and promotions – but they’re only around for one day. Don’t get so wound up today that you fail to take advantage of all of those promos (psst: there’s free stuff!).
10. Panic. For all that we’re going to talk about Tax Day all day (and yes, I will be talking about it all day), it’s just one day. There are bigger fish to fry. There are very few things that you can do today that can’t be undone or fixed. So relax and take a few deep breaths. You’ve got this one in the bag.