by Mae Saslaw

Last Minute Tax Tips

Welcome to part two of our tax season special posts! In part one, we gave you a brief overview of income tax rates. Today, we’ll take you through the IRS resources that can help you complete your 2011 return.

Tax collectors have been around for about 5,000 years, and they haven’t always been lenient, or helpful, or friendly. Taxation is embedded so deeply in our civilization that [the Rosetta Stone}(*.html) and the Magna Carta both refer to the rights of sovereign leaders to levy taxes. Taxation has also led to more than a few revolutions over the years. No matter how you feel about your current tax liability, it’s wise to maintain some perspective: Ancient Egyptians paid taxes with hard labor; we can pay taxes with an iPhone app.

It’s True: The IRS Wants to Help

Why wouldn’t they? The more they help, the more tax revenue they’ll collect. We all know that taxes are complicated, and the sheer quantity of forms and documents you need to get started can be overwhelming. It’s in the best interest of the IRS to make tax time easier for everybody, and they try pretty hard.

The aforementioned IRS2Go app for iOS and Android won’t do your taxes for you, but it will help you check the status of your refund, learn about updates to forms and policies, and get in touch with an IRS representative who can answer your specific questions.

On the web, the Interactive Tax Assistant can help you search for IRS resources and information. Tax Trails offers a bit more guidance and helps you find the right starting point in your tax preparation adventures. These tools will point you to the forms you will need, or you can go straight to the Tax Map to view all 400 forms and topics.

Are Your Taxes Really Complicated?

Doing your own taxes isn’t so bad when you have one full-time job, or even a couple of part-time jobs that withhold income tax from your paychecks. I’ve filed with a good old 1040-EZ for the last ten years, but now that I’ve joined the ranks of freelance workers, it’s not so simple.

We’ll be heading to the “Businesses” tab on the IRS website. Start at the small business or self-employed individuals pages for specific resources and guides.

If you’re not sure how to classify your business, or if you’d like a video-based walkthrough of your options and responsibilities, have a look at the Small Business/Self-Employed Virtual Small Business Tax Workshop. Admittedly not the catchiest title, but it’s thorough and self-paced — grab a snack and get comfortable for this one. It balances video, text, and user input as well as the best online tutorials I’ve encountered. My fellow UI snobs may be tempted to dismiss its blue-black gradients and salmon pantsuits, but believe it or not, it does the job.

Are Your Taxes a Problem?

The IRS won’t judge you, or tell your parents, or force you to build pyramids if you aren’t able to file or pay on time. Lots of people had a less-than-awesome financial year in 2011. This page provides a handful of scenarios and resources, and these tips describe several options for making payments if you owe money.

Preparing taxes can be just as difficult as paying them, and winding up on the wrong side of the IRS is even less fun. It’s expensive for the IRS to figure out whose returns are missing and just how much each tax evader owes, and the whole point of taxes is to pay for things besides tax collection, so they’d rather help you file properly in the first place. There are free tax assistance and preparation services for qualified individuals and real people you can call. There’s also the Taxpayer Advocate Service, a branch of the IRS dedicated to helping taxpayers “resolve problems” and generally improve their relations with the taxman.

Last-Last-Minute Tips

Next time, we’ll tell you about your options for actually filing those tax returns. We’ve given you a handful of shortcuts to the valuable resources on the IRS website, and with four weeks to go, you still have time to read through them and get organized.

Last year, this post from The Awl gave me some much-needed, light-hearted, zero-hour motivation to just sit down and get it done. The IRS doesn’t accept any of your old excuses for turning things in late, but they do accept Form 4868, which allows you to pay your estimated tax due and file later. If you overpay, they’ll even return the difference.

We’re not saying that taxes are a walk in the park, or that the IRS is all bunnies and rainbows. But at least it’s finally springtime, and if you like, you can make a suggestion on Form 13285A.

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