Get a jump on your tax returns

By Mary Kuhlman - Ohio News Connection

COLUMBUS — Now that the holiday season is over, attention will soon shift to the much less jolly income tax-filing season.

The Internal Revenue Service begins processing returns on Jan. 19, and Jennifer Jenkins, spokesperson with the IRS in Ohio, suggests getting a head start now by organizing bank statements, donation receipts, and other important paperwork. For those using a professional tax service, she recommends conducting a background check.

“It’s very important to do a little vetting,” Jenkins said. “To get some reassurance that the person that you’re giving all this sensitive information to is a legitimate tax return preparer.”

Commercial software filing options also are available that are approved by the IRS, as well as the agency’s “IRS Free File” system for people with annual incomes under $60,000. Due to a holiday in Washington, D.C., the deadline to submit both state and federal 2015 tax returns this year is pushed back a couple of days to Monday, April 18.

Jenkins says about one-third of taxpayers itemize their deductions, and they’ll need to keep receipts for anything claimed, including charitable contributions.

“I can’t stress this enough, you need to have documentation to show that you have made this donation,” says Jenkins. “It’s also important when it comes to charities that you’re donating to a qualifying charity, because not all charities are what’s called ‘tax exempt.’”

For those who itemize deductions, any item donated over $500 requires a qualified appraisal.

Also make sure to check your eligibility for tax credits, including the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child and Dependent Care Credit. Jenkins says credits are available for those who are in college, too.

“The Lifetime Learning credit can be worth up to $2,000. The American Opportunity Tax Credit can be worth up to $2,500,” says Jenkins. “They’re mutually exclusive; you can’t take both.”

And if you realize you missed something after your return is filed, Jenkins notes it’s always possible to file an amended return.

By Mary Kuhlman

Ohio News Connection