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Preparing your tax return: How can you prevent problems?

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Every year, taxpayers make mistakes on their tax returns. Some may be silly, while others may be serious.

What kinds of errors should you watch for as you get ready to file this year's return? Here are three common missteps to avoid.

Don't get the details wrong

Incorrect Social Security numbers and even taxpayers' names are among the most common errors on tax returns, according to the Internal Revenue Service. Other problems include simple math miscalculations and errors on bank routing or account numbers when people use direct deposit for their returns.

Confusion about filing status is another common misstep. There are five different choices — single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household, or qualifying widow(er) with dependent child. Make sure you know which one applies to your situation.

Finally, did you sign and date your return? Failure to do so is another error frequently seen at the IRS. Remember, if you're filing jointly, both spouses must sign the return.

When it comes to your return, it's best to take your time, read the instructions carefully and check your calculations when you're done. Errors could delay processing, which means it will take longer to get your refund, if you're expecting one.

Don't miss out on credits or deductions

It can be tough to figure out how to apply a credit or deduction, but if you fail to take one that you deserve, you miss out on the chance to lower your tax bill. Some commonly overlooked deductions that you may qualify for include those for state sales tax, charitable contributions, student loan interest payments made by the student's parents, expenses related to finding a job or moving to take your first job, and military reserve members' travel expenses.

Still, there are many more that taxpayers often miss. Did you know, for example, that you may be able to claim your parents as dependents if you provide more than half of their support? Or that you might be eligible for a refund for overpayment of Social Security taxes if you work for more than one employer?

If you're a small-business owner, you may qualify for the home office deduction or other business credits or deductions. Your CPA can help identify all the opportunities for minimizing your tax bill.

Don't ignore what your return tells you

Tax returns are a great source of information, serving as your own personal income statement. You can learn a lot from the facts and figures they contain, but many people fail to do so.

For example, your return may be telling you that you're paying too much in taxes. In addition to forgoing the credits or deductions you're eligible for, you may be missing out on ways to lower your taxable income.

If you have a high level of taxable dividend income, it may be time to consider some tax-deferred investments. One way you can do that is by contributing as much as allowed to a tax-advantaged retirement account. In addition, if your employer matches your contributions to a 401(k), you're leaving money on the table if you don't deposit enough each year to qualify for the full match. Your CPA can review your return with you and help you understand what the numbers mean.

Your local CPA can help

CPAs offer more than tax return preparation: They also offer expert planning advice that can help you minimize your taxes and achieve your financial goals. Plus, even the tax return preparation fee you pay may be deductible. Be sure to contact your CPA with all your financial questions.

To find a CPA in Pennsylvania by location or area of expertise who can help you file your taxes, visit www.ineedacpa.org/tax.

For more information about Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA), visit www.ineedacpa.org.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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