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Tax Time - Top 10 Tips to Assist in Tax Preparation

1. Throughout the Year, Keep Your Tax Records Organized. The time it takes to prepare your taxes is dramatically reduced for those who develop a system for organizing their documents, receipts and records. A good theme around which I use to organize my materials is, unsurprisingly, the income, deduction or tax credit items I listed on last year's return.

2. Don't Wait 'Til the Last Minute! A wise Ben Franklin once said, "Don't put off 'til tomorrow that which can be done today"! I think it was him who said that. Anyway, I'd like to think he was talking about taxes, because your haste to meet the filing deadline could cause you to not only risk making a real error but, more importantly, it could cause you to overlook some potential sources of tax savings.

3. Visit The IRS Online. If you haven't already, you would do well to follow the lead of millions of other taxpayers who've visited the IRS website in calendar years 2004 and 2005. Together, they've already downloaded nearly 600 million forms, publications and a wide variety of tax-related information. But, don't worry -- there's always more where that came from.

4. Coffee, Tea or Free Tax Assistance? They're not just a bunch of 'big meanies' taking our hard-earned dollars -- the IRS actually does its fair share of giving. They provide, as a matter of fact, free pre-recorded tax messages on about 150 tax topics. Don't believe me? Just call the toll-free TeleTax service at 1 (800) 829-4477. Or, if you prefer speaking with humans, call the free, IRS staff helpline at 1 (800) 829-1040 (for individuals) or 1 (800) 829-4933 (for small businesses).

5. More Personalized Assistance. Speaking of 'doing its fair share of giving' -- the IRS also provides free personalized help with your taxes at IRS offices nationwide. So, there! For this service, you will probably want to check with your local newspaper or local IRS office to find locations for what they call their 'Volunteer Income Tax Assistance' or their 'Tax Counseling' sites.

6. Electronic Returns -- Faster Than a Speeding Bullet! Now, this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, but just in case -- IRS e-file is the fastest, most accurate way to file your tax return, bar none! And yes, if you're fortunate enough to be due a tax refund -- the waiting time for e-filers is about half that of paper filers!

7. Double-Check Your Math for Errors! Once all is said and done, it's the little things that matter. So, make sure you double-check your math and make sure you have correctly provided and legibly written the names and Social Security numbers, or other identifying info for your self, your spouse and your dependents.

8. Direct-Deposit All The Way! Another way to speed up your refund and reduce chances of theft, is to have your refund deposited directly into your bank account.

9. Can't Pay? Take a Deep Breath! Exhale! And, Consider Your Alternatives. If you find that you just can't immediately pay taxes you might owe, consider these less-stressed-out alternatives. (A) Apply for an IRS installment agreement; (b) get a reduced late-penalty rate; or, (c) charge your balance to a credit card -- either as part of an electronic return, or directly through a processing agent. Remember: there are more ways than one to skin a cat.

10. If All Else Fails -- Request an Extension of Time to File! Then too, if the clock just runs out, you can always get an automatic four-month extension of time to file, to August 15th. Just keep in mind that, just because they may give you an extension of time to file -- that doesn't translate as an extension of time to pay! If you get an extension of time to file, just make sure you pay on time!

Dr. Steven A. Maclin, Professor of Public Administration and Public Affairs (Virginia Tech, 1994).

Dr. Maclin has been a university professor since 1994, and has taught American military personnel on American air bases/ posts across mainland Japan, Okinawa, and South Korea. He has edited and published dozens of articles in professional administrative journals while building websites and publishing materials for graduate students and other professionals online.

He's now stateside, and is quietly teaching graduate students, writing articles and publishing online from his home office in Ohio (see, for instance, Free cell phone reverse lookup and Discover niche products and affiliate programs to represent). Dr. Maclin can be reached for comment at

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