Saturday, February 1, 2003

Follow the paper trail for taxes

Here's a run-down on what you need to file

By Amy Higgins
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Welcome to Income Tax Filing Season.

While the official deadline to file your 1040 and litany of other income tax forms is still 2 months away, today starts the paperwork bonanza.

Indeed, the IRS says that next week is one of its peak filing weeks.

Today: Getting your tax records organized
Sunday: What's new for 2002
Monday: Often-missed, work-related deductions
Tuesday: Does it make sense to deduct a home office?
Wednesday: Education-related credits and deductions
Thursday: Reduce taxes without itemizing
Friday: Which filing status is best?
Saturday: IRS Free File and online tax chat on Cincinnati.Com
Federal income taxes are as confusing as ever - especially with the tax breaks passed last year making things more complicated. Let the Enquirer's tax experts help answer your questions.
Go online to Cincinnati.Com from 11 a.m. to noon on Feb. 8, 22 and March 8 for our third annual series of Tax Chats. Questions will be answered live by Tom Cooney and Crystal Faulkner, partners in the accounting firm of Cooney, Faulkner and Stevens.
Or you can e-mail questions throughout the week to Answers to commonly asked questions will be printed in Saturday editions of the Enquirer through April 12.
That's because IRS regulations require employers and financial companies to have sent taxpayers the necessary forms by the end of January.

Do you have everything that you should by now? Here's an inventory run-down, along with some commonly forgotten documents:

Income statements. These include W-2s from your employers and 1099s from financial firms. Taxpayers receiving pensions or Social Security benefits should also expect to receive documentation.

Joseph A. Smith, a Cincinnati CPA, said to make sure also that if you sold stock in a taxable account last year that you know what you paid for it. The 1099 you receive about the sale typically will list only your proceeds, not what part of it is taxable.

Deduction forms. A typical taxpayer's largest deduction will be mortgage interest, which comes on a 1098 form. But if you took out a home equity loan or refinanced with a different mortgage company last year, be on the lookout for multiple 1098s.

(Be aware that - if you've enrolled in an online bill paying system for your mortgage, home equity or student loan debt - 1098 information might not be mailed. You might have to download it for yourself.)

But because many of your itemized deductions might not be documented on 1099s, start gathering your receipts for such deductions as charitable donations, medical costs and work-related expenses.

"The other thing people don't pick up is the amount people pay for investment advice," Smith said. "That's sometimes a significant dollar amount."

Tax forms or software. If you still file paper returns, the IRS will have mailed you a tax-year 2002 packet by now that includes most of the standard forms and instruction books.

If you use a tax preparation software - such as Intuit's TurboTax or H&R Block's TaxCut - the companies have mailed to some customers updates of last year's programs.

Be patient

What should you do if you don't have some of this information by now?

"We get tons of calls" on Feb. 1, IRS spokesman Chris Kerns said, about missing forms and information.

But the first thing taxpayers should do is be patient. The IRS recommends waiting another 15 days to account for computer glitches or a mailing problem.

"As a last resort, report the company to the IRS through our 1-800-TAX-1040 line," he said.

But with or without that expected information, taxpayers are still required to file by April 15 even if they have to estimate missing W-2 information from pay stubs.

"There are penalties" for not filing on time, Kerns said. "You are still liable for those taxes."


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