National Consumers League

Beat the clock and file your taxes before April 18

The April 18 income tax filing deadline is quickly approaching, and millions of consumers (almost one in seven Americans!) have yet to file their tax returns. If you are one of these last-minute filers, it can be a stressful time of year. But, rushing to complete a last-minute return can lead to rash decisions about tax preparation or to costly mistakes, which will delay your refund.

Here’s the good news: we have tips to help your complete their taxes on time — or get more time if needed. Filing doesn’t need to be a hassle. Use these tips to avoid many common filing errors and costly IRS penalties. Even if you don’t owe anything, missing the deadline can stall your refund check and make you more susceptible to tax identity fraud.

  1. Take advantage of free tax preparation help. Skip the high-cost tax preparation outfits and, instead, take advantage of free tax preparation assistance from Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs in your community. VITA programs are staffed by IRS-certified volunteers, but appointments are filling up, so act quickly. Find a local VITA site by visiting IRS.gov/VITA.

  2. Use Free File to e-file. More than 70 percent of all taxpayers qualify for IRS Free File. Consumers who make up to $64,000 per year can take advantage of the program, which allows the use of free, name-brand tax filing software from some of the biggest names in the tax prep business. Visit IRS.gov/FreeFile to learn more.

  3. File sooner rather than later. Tax identity fraud is one of the fastest growing types of scams, impacting thousands of Americans each year. Filing as soon as possible is the fastest way to reduce the risk of an identity thief beating you to your return.
  4. Watch out for tax preparer scams. Don’t let tax preparation fraud become another Tax Day headache. Be wary of fraudsters trying to steal your money and identity this tax season by making sure your preparer is qualified. Here is a guide to help you spot and find an honest preparer.

  5. Make sure you are filing an accurate return. Even if you are relying on software or a professional, make sure to double check everything for accuracy. Review all the numbers entered and make sure they are correct. Confirm that you have the right bank routing and account numbers. If you are filing a paper return, make sure everything is clear and easy to read. Remember, you -- not your tax preparer -- are responsible for any errors on your return.

If you’re going to miss the deadline, request a filing extension. According to the IRS, taxpayers who cannot meet the April 18 deadline can easily request a filing extension, which will prevent late-filing penalties. You can do this through Free File, or by filing Form 4868. But keep in mind that while an extension grants additional time to file, tax payments are still due on April 18.