By Ray Martin, CBS MoneyWatch
(CBSMoneyWatch) Millions of people are getting a jump on filing their tax returns now that they have received their W-2s and 1099 forms. And for most, the incentive to get moving is to get that tax refund in their bank account as soon as possible.
The average refund for filers last year was about $3,000. Last week, by contrast, I spoke to some people with average incomes who were $6,000 refunds! I’m not a fan of large tax refunds because they are typically the result of overpaying taxes. It’s a form of starving your cash flow all year long so that you can get a lump sum by filing some forms to prove its really your money.
But if you typically get a refund, you’ll want to get your taxes prepared and filed as quickly as possible. So here are a few things to check for before you file. Make sure you use the correct Social Security numbers for the joint filers and dependents listed on your return.
– Check to see that your name at the top of your tax return is spelled exactly the same as it is shown on your Social Security card and records. Misspelled, abbreviated or otherwise inconsistent names are a common reason for delayed tax refunds so, it pays to make sure they match.
– Sign and date your returns. Both spouses must sign a joint return, even if only one had income to report.
– Send your tax return to the correct IRS processing center. Check the IRS website to get the correct address.
– If you are filing a paper tax return, attach all W-2 forms and other required forms and schedules.
– For folks who will owe taxes, don’t attach your payment to your tax return. Instead, enclose the payment — in the form of a check made payable to “United States Treasury” — with a form 1040-V Payment Voucher and send it to the appropriate address.
If you want a more secure way to pay your taxes, then consider doing it via electronic debit from your bank account, which can be elected when you file your return or an extension using your personal computer and tax-prep software. When paying your taxes by direct account debit, you can specify an account and a payment date up to the April 15 deadline. You will need the name of your bank, the account number and the routing number. But first, check with your financial institution to be sure they allow Electronic Funds Transfer transactions and to ensure you are using the correct routing number, which will avoid payment delays.
In any event, if you’re preparing your own taxes you should definitely do what the professionals do — use tax preparation software to complete and file your tax returns.
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