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Keep eye out for mistakes when doing last-minute tax returns

WILLMAR -- The stress and rush of meeting today's midnight deadline to file 2008 tax returns could result in people making mistakes.

Last-minute tax filers are more likely to make simple errors, said Carrie Resch, IRS spokeswoman in St. Paul. "It's typically a lot higher at the end of the season," she said.

Of the 2.6 million Minnesotans that will file tax returns this year, about 40 percent will be filed in the last two weeks.

Most of the mistakes are found in those filing paper tax returns. Nearly 20 percent of the paper tax returns filed with the Internal Revenue Service in the last couple weeks will have mistakes, Resch said.

"People are in a hurry or they don't double- or triple-check," she said.

Most common mistakes are errors in math calculations, transposing numbers and using the wrong tax table. "And people oftentimes forget to date and sign their return," Resch said.

All of those errors can be avoided if taxes are filed electronically, she said.

Other common mistakes are not writing Social Security numbers correctly or not matching the Social Security number with the correct family member.

Resch said some people will fail to apply for the earned income tax credit they might be eligible to receive this year if their jobs and incomes have been reduced. People who have not been eligible for those credits in the past, but have now lost their jobs or had their hours and salary cut, may now qualify.

The recovery rebate credit may also be available to individuals who didn't qualify for the stimulus checks last year, or didn't receive the full amount.

First-time home buyers who purchased a house in 2009 can apply for the $8,000 tax credit on their 2008 taxes if they want the money this year.

As more tax returns are filed electronically, some of the minor clerical errors should be reduced. So far this year about 83 percent of the returns were filed electronically, up from 79 percent last year.

Most people use a tax preparer, but Resch said there was a 17.5 percent increase this year in people doing their own taxes online and filing electronically.

Those who are unable to file their returns by today's deadline can request an extension, but they still need to pay the estimated taxes by today.

Those who are unable to pay all of their taxes can request an installment plan. There is a fee and interest charged, and Resch said options like paying taxes with a credit card or with a bank loan may be cheaper.

For those scrambling to finish up today, Resch recommends that self-filers work on their calculation and then "step away and come back to it" to try to avoid errors.

The IRS toll-free assistance line 1-800-829-1040 will be open from 7 a.m. until midnight tonight.

Online information is also available at www.irs.gov

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750