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Still Haven’t Done Your Taxes? Tech Tips to Help You Out

by Adriana Lee | April 15, 2011April 15, 2011 2:00 pm PST

With the tax filing deadline rapidly approaching, those of you who have procrastinated may now be facing the dreaded task of getting that financial house in order. Luckily, the tax filing deadline is moving from its usual April 15th date to April 18th this year — you can thank Emancipation Day in D.C. for bumping that — so you’ve got an extra business day and a weekend to get things done. And thanks to modern technology, you don’t have to agonize for the next few days, pouring over thick piles of IRS forms. So if you’re ready to roll up your sleeves, give one of these tools a shot to help whip your taxes into shape.

 

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E-filing

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If you made less than $58,000 last year, you can file your federal return for free here. Otherwise, check out an e-filing service, like one of these big kahunas: TaxAct, TurboTax and H&R Block.

TaxACT: This one’s like the budget shopper’s service of choice. There’s a very basic free service available from TaxACT, plus packages for $9.95 up to $17.95 (which is much cheaper than the other two). It’s a fairly bare bones service, though there are a few nice perks, like a tax glossary with 275+ definitions and the ability to import your previous year’s return.

TurboTax: TurboTax by Intuit also offers free preparation and filing for simple Federal tax returns (State returns are extra), and if your situation winds up being more complicated than you thought, it can suggest a paid service level to match your situation — from $50 on up. In some cases, it can also import data from PDFs, QuickBooks (v. 2007 or higher), Quicken and Mint.com. Of course, if you prefer desktop software, you can pick up a CD or download it too. There are even TurboTax Android, iPhone and iPad apps as well. (For more, see below.)

H&R Block: The leading name in consumer tax services also offers online e-filing. Like TurboTax, H&R Block offers a free and paid editions ($35-$75), but sweetens the pot by throwing in free audit support and representation from an H&R Block agent. You could try to schedule a last-minute in-person appointment (most, if not all, locations are open through the weekend) for tax preparation, or prepare your own and then have a tax professional file it for you ($80). But be warned — if you’re planning on going into the office, the sure bet is that it will be a zoo, so bring your favorite time waster with you. You could also download a desktop program or check out the iPhone app (below).

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Apps

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TurboTax SnapTax: This tax-filing app lets users file their 1040EZ forms right from their device. You just snap a photo of your W2, and then answer some simple questions to e-file. The app itself free on all platforms, but Android users will need the $19.99 SnapTax Filing Key to file your Federal and State returns. iPhone users don’t need a separate app, but the price is the same $19.99 to file your returns. For Android and iPhone. (There’s also a free iPad app that’s getting lots of attention these days.) [EDITED for clarity]

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Taxcaster Mobile: TurboTax also has another free app that offers quick estimates for tax refunds using basic info you enter. Accuracy obviously depends on the data you input, but if you’re filing an EZ with no extenuating circumstances, then it can definitely help ballpark what’s coming to you (or what’s owed).For Android and iOS.

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IRS2GO, MyTaxRefund: Once you’ve e-filed, if you want to know the status of your return or when you can expect that refund to arrive, then these apps can really help ease your mind. And if that return gets rejected — horrors! — at least you can know about it fast and fix it right away. The IRS’ IRS2GO for Android and iOS; MyTaxRefund for Android and iOS.

 

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Other Tips

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If the IRS owes you money, have them direct deposit it into your bank. Seriously, if you want the IRS to pay you as soon as possible, direct deposit is the best way to go.

If you’ll be late with your tax return, file Form 4868 to apply for an automatic extension (to October 15th). You’ll still have to pay for any monies owed by April 18 th(otherwise incur late fees), but the actual return can follow later. So estimate what you need to pay (if you do), and if you can, even overpay to make sure you aren’t charged penalties. The IRS will refund the difference. Download the form here or file it electronically (which I recommend — at least then you’ll be notified via email if you’re accepted). You can e-file this at FileLater, as well as via TurboTax and H&R Block.

Determine if you can deduct your gadget habit: Let’s be real — you like gear. You wouldn’t be here otherwise. If you’re a small business owner or freelancer, this might be a no-brainer. But what about the rest of us? Well, if you can make the case that your technology was bought/being used for the convenience of your employer (and not just so you can look cool or check email from your bed), then you might be able to deduct it. (For more info on deducting expenses, hit up IRS section 179 here.)

Get ready for next year: There’s a veritable ton of financial tracking software available. (Quicken may be the granddaddy of them all.) But there are also other indispensable tools. My favorite these days is Mint.com, since it’s free and accessible via iOS, Android and online. It automatically accesses your accounts, making it easy to track spending, visualize budgets and see historical trends. For example, I found it illuminating to see how much I really spend on dinners out. (Truly shocking.) Plus the user interface is clean and attractive, and it’s easy to use. Not to mention, having the information on the go (when I’m out spending) really helps rein me in.

Also don’t forget about Evernote, Springpad, JotNot and other programs that make it super easy to record or scan in stuff like receipts and expenses, as they happen. All of these have mobile apps, and some allow access via web, desktop program, or both.

 

So don’t squander the extra time we’re getting this year. (And if you do, don’t forget about Form 4868.) The sooner you get this off your plate (computer, tablet or phone), the better you’ll feel.

How did/are you handling your taxes this year? Are you hiring someone, going online, or using a desktop or mobile application? Which one? Weigh in below and let us know.

 


Adriana Lee

Adriana is the resident writer-slash-culture vulture who has written about everything from smartphones, tablets, apps, accessories, and small biz...

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