Written by: Gene G. Smith, CPA

With the availability of tax preparation software there are many Americans who are preparing their own tax return. According to one source I found in an internet search 33% of Americans file their own return, 56% have a professional prepare their return, and the other 11% were not sure.

Most every professional preparer is required to file tax returns electronically. If filing on your own, chances are that your software is capable (sometimes for an extra fee) of electronic filing as well. The advantage of electronic filing is; 1) you will receive an automatic electronic confirmation that the IRS has received your tax return which constitutes proof that the IRS received your return. If the IRS rejects your return, it will email you a rejection letter explaining the reasons for the rejection: 2) Another big advantage of electronic filing is speed. If you’re owed a refund, you’ll get it much faster by filing electronically and having it direct deposited. 3) You can be assured there are no math errors.

Just because you are using software and filing electronically does not mean you are exempt from making any errors. Here is a partial list of common mistakes:

  1. The IRS is all about social security numbers to identify tax filers and members of their household, but that does not give you a pass to make spelling errors or have incorrect last names on the return. A common problem is women who change their surnames due to marriage or divorce. You need to make sure whatever name is on file with the social security office, is the name being used on the tax return.
  2. As mentioned above, having your refund direct deposited is the quickest way to have access to your refund. The problem is that taxpayers sometimes use the wrong routing number or bank account number which can delay your refund significantly. You can actually have your money deposited into a maximum of three accounts by using Form 8888, which increases the chance of an error even more.
  3. Filing status errors can be a problem, particularly if you have been recently divorced or have lost a spouse due to death. There are filing status choices in these cases that are going to reduce your tax bill and you need to choose your filing status carefully.
  4. Make sure you include the social security number for your dependents and in the software provide the birth date and the proper code for the type of dependent being claimed. There are credits for dependents, which can only be determined by having complete information.
  5. Sign and date your return. The IRS won’t process it if it’s missing your signature (and signature of your spouse if filing joint), and that means on e-filed returns too. Taxpayers filing electronically must sign the return using a personal identification number (PIN). To verify your identity, you’ll have to provide the PIN you used last year or your adjusted gross income from your previous year’s tax return.