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A Half-Dozen Tips for 11th-Hour Filers

By Albert B. Crenshaw
Sunday, April 10, 2005; Page F01

Haven't finished your tax return?

Tut-tut.

However, you're not alone. A survey last week by Yahoo Finance found that 14 percent of taxpayers plan to wait until April 15 to file, and the Internal Revenue Service expects about 9 million taxpayers to apply for extensions.

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Last-minute filing does make sense, of course, for people who will owe money with their returns. Experts often recommend getting your return done so you know where you stand, but then sitting on it until the deadline if you're going to have to pay.

But for the pure procrastinators among you, the best advice is get going.

Sweating out a return Thursday night and into Friday is an invitation to careless -- and potentially expensive -- mistakes. These range from simple math errors, which the IRS will likely catch, perhaps deflating the refund you had planned on, to overlooked deductions and special treatments of income that could be beneficial.

By this point, it's too late to do much to alter your 2004 situation. For many taxpayers, the best course now is the usual -- check your return carefully; be sure your Social Security number and those of your dependents are correct; sign the return.

But even at this late date, there are a few things you can do that may save some dollars or headaches. Here are some suggestions:

• First, you can still contribute to an individual retirement account. If you don't have a retirement plan at work, you can contribute and deduct up to $3,000, assuming your earnings were at least that much, or $3,500 if you are 50 or older. And your spouse can contribute, even if he or she doesn't work. If you have a retirement plan at work, you may still take a deduction if your adjusted gross income is $45,000 or less for a single taxpayer or $65,000 or less for a married couple. You can take partial deductions if your income is less than $55,000 single or $75,000 married.

And don't forget Roth IRAs. If you are ineligible for a deductible IRA, you may be able to contribute to a Roth IRA. It won't save you any money now -- contributions are not deductible -- but it will later on because withdrawals in retirement are tax-free. Singles with incomes of $110,000 or less are eligible, as are couples earning up to $160,000. (Notice the marriage penalty -- two singles could earn up to $220,000.)


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