Preparing for tax season the smarter way
BY BRYCE KELLY
Mt. Pleasant News
Tax season. It’s not many people’s favorite time of the year. Despite the burdensome nature of prepping for tax filing, tax expert Mark Lehman has a few tips to hopefully make the process a little less stressful.
Lehman, a CPA and tax expert with Green Tax Pros, of Burlington, says taxes shouldn’t have to be stressful if a few basic rules are followed and considered. In fact, Lehman says taking care to file taxes the right way might save filers a few bucks.
Get organized prior to filing
According to Lehman, it’s common for most filers to forget at least one piece of information when they bring their tax information to a tax professional. And while forgetting information at a tax meeting isn’t a major problem, Lehman says it could slow down the tax filing process.
“We get a lot of people who often forget to bring social security numbers for dependents with them to their tax appointment,” said Lehman. “For new clients, I always like to see three years of tax returns, which is fairly common, so having those on-hand would be a good thing.”
With regard to social security numbers, the IRS tracks every taxpayer through a Social Security number. When dropping off tax data at your preparer’s office, don’t forget the ID numbers of dependents. This includes everyone a taxpayer claims, from elderly parents to infants. Children who don’t have their numbers yet may obtain such information by contacting the Social Security Administration.
A missing Social Security number for any person listed on your return could cost you. The IRS could delay the processing of your return, slow down any tax refund or disallow a tax credit if you don’t have the identification numbers to support it.
In addition, Lehman says an easy way to help a tax consultant in the filing process would be to total itemized deductions prior to handing in tax information at their tax appointment.
Know what not to leave out
Equally as important as getting your information organized, is to know what information to come armed with.
“A lot of the time, if clients forget to come to a tax appointment with something because they didn’t know they needed it, it’s just a matter of them getting that information rounded up and then sent to me after our appointment, which is fine, it just makes the process of getting their taxes filed a little less speedy than it would be otherwise,” said Lehman.
According to him, the most common information that tax clients often forget to consider prior to having their taxes filed are a total of non-cash charitable donations given during the year, and miles driven for charity over the course of the year.
“A lot of people don’t understand the value of the clothing they donate to Salvation Army, or a store like that,” said Lehman. “What I would suggest is to itemize the clothes that you give as donations and the IRS has a pricing guide that can be used when doing your taxes. Most people have no idea that a garbage bag full of donated clothes that is itemized can result in a good tax deduction.”
According to the irs.gov, regardless of the amount, to deduct a contribution of cash, check, or other monetary gift, you must maintain a bank record, payroll deduction records or a written communication from the organization containing the name of the organization, the date of the contribution and amount of the contribution. For text message donations, a telephone bill will meet the record-keeping requirement if it shows the name of the receiving organization, the date of the contribution, and the amount given.
“Also, if you drive out to an organization to donate your time to a charity, you can also deduct miles driven, which most people don’t know you can do,” said Lehman. “It’s little things that can often result in a good chunk of savings if you know what not to leave out when doing your taxes.”
For a full list of facts and commonly asked questions regarding deducting charitable donations for tax purposes, visit www.irs.gov, or consult a tax professional.
Find a tax expert
Finally, when it comes to tax season, there is more than one way to get taxes filed and over with for the year. And while many adults choose to file their taxes on their own, Lehman says having a little help might not be a bad way to go.
“The biggest benefit to having a tax consultant help you with your taxes is that it will likely save people time and money,” said Lehman. “There is also some piece of mind knowing that someone who does accounting and tax preparation for a living is handling things, so you can have time freed up to do the other things you need to do with your family, your job or whatever it might be.”
In Iowa especially, Lehman also says having a tax consultant to help with even fairly simple returns could be a major benefit.
“Iowa has a pretty complex tax form,” said Lehman, saying many Iowans can often get hung up on the complexity of the federal return form. “Compared to a lot of other states, I have found Iowa’s tax forms can be a little confusing. So, having an expert who can navigate those on your behalf may be a little easier.”
Overall, Lehman says regardless of how taxes are filed, it’s important for adults to have a place to turn when they have questions or concerns.
“I always want my clients to know they can ask questions,” he said. “Whether it’s through a tax consultant, or maybe certified tax website or software, it’s always good to ask questions when you have them. It’s your money and information, so make sure you understand how it’s being handled.”