Special "Money Watch 2000" Edition

Everybody knows about the April 15 deadline for getting tax returns in the mail. But getting them in the mail is only half the battle. Attaching the right attachments, putting the right forms in the envelope, putting correct postage on the envelope, this is where the fun begins. This year, before you seal up the envelope and send your tax return off to the taxing authorities, take a look at this quick checklist of the areas where taxpayers most frequently have problems with their tax returns:

Sign and date the return . The signature goes on page two of the tax return. Since you don't see the signature section when you staple the return together, it's easy to miss. You need to sign and date the return. If you are married and filing a joint return, your spouse needs to sign and date the return as well. If you paid someone to prepare your return, that person needs to sign and date the return too.

Use mailing label . If you received a pre-printed, stick-on mailing label with your tax booklet, you should use this label on your tax return. Place it on page one at the top, right over the name and address section. The IRS really likes these labels. In fact, if there is wrong information on the label, you should use it anyway and cross out and change the wrong information.

Calculate the tax. A common mistake occurs when taxpayers use the tax tables to calculate income tax and choose the tax amount from the wrong column. There is a separate column for each filing status (single, married filing jointly, etc.). Although it may be tempting to look over the amounts in all of the columns and pick the lowest one to be your tax, the IRS prefers that you choose the amount that matches your filing status.

Attach your W-2. Before you place your tax return in the mailing envelope, go get your W-2 form and pull off the copy of the form that belongs to the federal government. The W-2 form that you want will have 'Copy B' printed somewhere on it, probably along the bottom edge. If you can't figure out which copy is 'Copy B,' just grab any of the copies of your W-2 form, and attach that. It really doesn't matter which one you use. The W-2 form gets stapled right to the front page of your tax return. If you worked for more than one employer, you will have a W-2 form from each employer. Attach one copy of each employer's W-2 form to your tax return.

Attach 1099 forms if tax was withheld . Usually you don't need to attach the 1099 forms you receive. These are the forms that show how much interest and dividend income you earned, and sometimes they show other types of income such as retirement income. The only time you need to attach a 1099 form to your tax return is if some income tax has been withheld from the income shown on the 1099 form. If you do need to attach a 1099 form to your tax return, staple it to the front page, just like the W-2 forms.

Place forms in sequence order . This one tricks almost everybody. There is a special order that you're supposed to use for organizing your tax forms before you staple them together. The 1040 form goes on the top of the stack. In the upper right corner of each form other than the 1040, you will see the year (1999), and right beneath the year is a tiny number called the . Attachment Sequence No., this is the number that determines in what order you are supposed to stack your forms. These little numbers were created by people with way too much time on their hands.

Send money! If your tax return shows that you owe additional tax, you're supposed to include this payment with your tax return. You can send a check in the same envelope with the tax return, or you can pay the tax by credit card. Don't put your credit card number on your tax return. Instead there is a toll-free phone number in your tax form booklet that you should call and a friendly IRS agent will take your credit card information over the phone.

Enter social security numbers. You need to enter a social security number for yourself and your spouse and each of your dependents. Each social security number that you enter must be exactly the same as the number you received on the card you got from the Social Security Administration. How else is Big Brother going to watch over you unless you enter the correct number? Stricter rules about social security numbers have resulted in the IRS refusing to give taxpayers the benefit of exemptions and child-related tax credits if the social security numbers are not included on the return.

Check your math . The IRS is going to do this too, but you should run a math check first. Make sure everything adds up the way it's supposed to. Don't be embarrassed if you have to get out a calculator. Do you think the IRS is going to add up the numbers without a calculator? No way!

Claim the Child Tax Credit. This was a new credit last year and lots of people missed it. If you have a child who was under age 17 at the end of 1999, you may be able to claim a Child Tax Credit of $500 for that child. The credit gets reported on page two of your 1040 or 1040A.

Take the time to read through these points again before mailing your return, and you may find that your tax return (and, if applicable, your refund) will be processed a little faster this year.

copyright © 2000 Gail Perry - Fun with Taxes

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