What to do by April 16
Keep this checklist handy for April 16 -- when you frantically finish your taxes and vow never, ever to procrastinate again:
File your federal income tax return (Form 1040) and pay any tax due. If you aren't prepared, then apply for a four-month filing extension (Form 4868). But remember, that just buys you time to file, not to pay. Estimate how much you owe and mail a check for at least that amount or you could face penalties and interest charges, too.
File your state tax return.
Pay your first-quarter 2001 estimated taxes.
Make your 2000 contribution to an IRA or Keogh self-employment plan. If you file for a federal extension, you can put off your Keogh contribution until Aug. 15. But IRA and Roth IRA contributions must be made by April 16.
File gift tax returns (Form 709) and pay any tax due.
Amend or claim a refund on your 1997 federal return before the three-year statute of limitations expires. If you filed for an extension in 1996, you have until Aug. 15.
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How to get IRS assistance
Here's how to get information and help from the Internal Revenue Service:
Internet. The Web site www.irs.gov has tax forms, publications, instructions, answers to frequently asked questions, tax regulations and news releases.
Telephone. For tax questions and other general information, call the main number at (800) 829-1040. To order forms, instructions and publications, call (800) 829-3676. For prerecorded answers to 150 common tax topics and to check the status of a refund, call TeleTax at (800) 829-4477.
Taxpayer advocate. For help with tax problems that couldn't be resolved through previous contact with the IRS, call the Taxpayer Advocate's office at (877) 777-4778.
Appeals. For help in preparing an appeal to an IRS collection or examination matter, call (877) 457-5055.
Credit cards. There is now a choice of two companies to handle payment of taxes by American Express, MasterCard or Discover credit cards. Both charge a convenience fee. Official Payments Corp. is at (800) 272-9829. PhoneCharge Inc. is at (888) 244-8299. Visa is not participating in the program.
Fax. Over 100 of the most common tax forms are available via fax 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling (703) 368-9694 from the telephone on a fax machine.
CD-ROM. Contains popular forms, instructions and other IRS information for $21. There is no handling fee if the order is placed via the Internet at www.irs.gov/cdorders. For a $5 handling fee, the CD-ROM can be purchased by calling (877) 233-6767.
Tax guides can help
Not all tax guides are alike. Many offer general advice, while other address specific audiences, offering insights on different ways individuals, families and business can reduce their tax bill. If you're looking for information on a tax problem, one of the following books might be able to help:
"Family Tax Strategies" by Holmes F. Crouch; All Year Tax Guides, 2000 ($19.95). Discusses education credits, child tax credits and other family tax breaks.
"What the IRS Doesn't Want You to Know," 7th Ed., by Martin S. Kaplan and Naomi Weiss; Villard, 2000 ($16.95). Tax-saving strategies and how to address issues with the Internal Revenue Service.
"How to Pay Zero Taxes" by Jeff A. Schnepper; McGraw-Hill, 2001 ($14.95). Techniques for minimizing your tax bill.
"422 Tax Deductions For Business and Self-Employed Individuals" by Bernard B. Kamoroff; Bell Springs Publishing, 2001 ($17.95). A to Z guide to legitimate business tax write-offs.
Web sites offer tax data
To get up to speed on your tax preparation, you may consider a visit to one of the many Web sites that offer tax information and tips:
Bankrate.com at www.bankrate.com/securetax. Contains assorted articles with tax-saving tips.
Money.com at www.money.com/money/magazine/taxes2000/indLine is overdrawn ex.html. Guide that features long-term tax strategies.
Quicken.com at www.quicken.com/taxes. Offers tax information and filing tools.
SmartMoney.com at www.smartmoney.com/tax. Provides tax basics, worksheets and feature articles.
Tax Planet at www.taxplanet.com/taxseason/taxseason.html.Line is overdrawn Covers a wide range of tax topics, with quick reference material and calendar.