The 2017 tax filing season is well underway,
and procrastinators from California to Maine are rejoicing. Why? Because there are a few extra days of wiggle room this year to complete their tax preparations.
The annual deadline for Americans to file their tax returns is April 15. But, because that date falls on a Sunday and the following Monday is Emancipation Day – a federal holiday – filers have until Tuesday, April 17 to submit their returns to the IRS.
But that doesn’t mean you should wait until the last minute. There are two big benefits to filing early, says The Motley Fool, a multimedia company that provides financial advice on stocks, investing and personal finance:
1. Get your money sooner. An estimated 80 percent of tax filers get a refund each year, according to CNN, and we’re not talking about small change. Last year, the typical refund was $2,763. “If you have outstanding bills to pay, a vacation you’re looking to fund, or just a general desire to get your hands on the cash that’s rightfully yours, then filing early is the best way to do just that.”
2. Avoid tax fraud – Criminals steal millions of dollars each year using pilfered social security numbers to file fraudulent tax returns and claim the refunds. Many victims don’t even realize what happened until the IRS rejects their legitimate refund. Protect yourself by filing as soon as possible. Once the IRS accepts your return and you have your documentation in hand, it is impossible for scammers to file another tax return in your name.
Now that we’ve motivated you to get your tax return filed, make sure you carve out plenty of time! The IRS estimates that it takes an average of 13 hours to gather all the paperwork, read up on pertinent tax laws, and complete and submit a return. But, let’s be honest. There are a lot better ways to spend 13 hours of your precious free time.
Instead, you can hire a tax professional to do the heavy lifting for you. The going rate, according to the National Society of Accountants, averages $176 for a standard 1040 form and state return with no itemized deductions.
Even better, there are several free and simple options to help you file on your own if your tax return is relatively simple (meaning one or more W-2 forms, some savings account interest and/or the standard deduction).
NBC TODAY Show financial editor and award-winning personal finance journalist Jean Chatzky recommends the following:
- The IRS’ Free File tool – Available to people who make less than $66,000 adjusted gross income a year.
- Credit Karma Tax – A free filing service with a 24-hour live chat and no income limit. Although, Chatzky notes the company does acknowledge using your information to send offers from their partners, something to keep in mind before signing up.
- H&R Block More Zero – Also free with a live chat option.
- TurboTax Absolute Zero and TaxAct Free – These free-file software options are usually eligible to anyone filing a 1040EZ or 1040A form; typically people making less than $100,000 a year who don’t plan to itemize their deductions.
- AARP Foundation Tax-Aide – Free in-person tax filing help for anyone, regardless of AARP membership status, at more than 5,000 locations nationwide in neighborhood libraries, malls, banks, community centers and senior centers.
Wondering what to do with your tax refund? Some of the more common choices are paying off credit card debt, making a big-ticket purchase such as buying a new car or paying down a mortgage or other loan.