12 Ways the IRS Website Can Help You Reduce Your Taxes and File Your Return
By Jim Glass, JD
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The IRS website provides a host of free resources that can help minimize your tax bill and manage your taxes all year round. Yet, most taxpayers are unaware of them.
Here are a dozen of the best. Reach them by clicking on the links below (every heading or blue-colored word is a link) or entering them in the search box at IRS.gov.
These are the same guides that IRS tax examiners use when conducting an audit. Why would the IRS provide its audit guides to the public? It is required to do so, by the Freedom of Information Act.
Getting an audit guide that applies to you can help you make your 2017 tax return "audit proof." Even better, when planning ahead it can help you eliminate audit risk by having better knowledge of the law and IRS rules and procedures.
More than 50 audit guides are available on the IRS web site for free download. They cover topics including: Executive Compensation, Lawsuit Awards and Settlements, Business Consultants, Architects, Attorneys, Cash Intensive Businesses, Golden Parachutes, Split Dollar Life Insurance, Veterinary Medicine, the Wine Industry, and dozens more.
Here are online calculators you can use to answer your own questions. Currently there are 45 calculators in categories including:
- Retirement: Pensions, IRAs, Social Security
- Filing Status, Dependents and Exemptions
- Itemized Deductions
- Filing Requirement, Form to Use, Due Date
- Other Income (from gambling winnings to academic scholarships)
- ...And more
3. Tax Reform
This page provides news about IRS explanations of, and initiatives regarding, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. It gives answers to Frequently Asked Questions, links to IRS notices and other legal guidance, and reports latest information about implementing the Act. If you have questions about Tax Reform this should be one of the first places to look for answers.
Are you waiting for a tax refund that is late in arriving? This tool lets you learn its status right away by checking online.
5. Free File
A partnership between the IRS and commercial providers of tax return preparation software, this program lets taxpayers prepare and file their returns using commercial software for free. Taxpayers with income up to $66,000 can use Free File. Even if your income is too high to be eligible, it may be valuable for other members of your family. Why prepare a complicated return by hand or pay to use commercial return preparation software, when you can use the software for free?
6. Select Check
Make sure that you will be able to deduct a gift you make to charity by verifying that the recipient of your gift is tax-qualified. You can do this on the IRS's Select Check web page. It is especially valuable when receiving solicitations from unfamiliar charities and donating to a charity for the first time.
If you need information from a past year's tax return to prepare this year's, improve your records, or for any other reason, you can request a transcript of your tax account here. You can obtain it online or have it sent to you by mail. Transcripts generally are available up to three years back. You also can request a photocopy of a past year's return by filing IRS Form 4506, obtained at the same web page.
Do you have an intractable problem with the IRS bureaucracy that you just can't fix? Do you believe you are being treated unfairly by the IRS regarding a collection matter, missing refund, or other issue? Your solution may be here. The Taxpayer Advocate Service is an independent organization within the IRS that represents taxpayers to assure they receive fair treatment, and helps resolve their problems.
This provides a comprehensive range of resources for self-employed individuals and businesses with under $10 million of assets. Topics include: Starting a business, closing one, business structure, use of independent contractors, employment taxes, and much more in an "A-Z Index for Business."
IRS electronic newsletters can bring the latest news on topics of interest directly to your email. Subjects include general tax news, advance copies of IRS rulings and notices, news for payroll professionals, for employee retirement plans, for small and large businesses, and more. Visit this page to see the full list and create your subscriptions.
The IRS offers more than 100 videos on its web site on subjects ranging from the Appeals Process to IRA/Retirement Plan 60-Day Rollover Waivers, Military Tax rules, and Securing Tax Information. There also is an IRS YouTube Channel.
12. IRS Newsroom
Check here for the latest news of the tax filing season and new tax developments. This week's news includes the announcement of filing extensions for businesses suffering from winter storms, the current "Dirty Dozen" tax scams posing the most danger to taxpayers, and news of refunds still unclaimed on 2014 tax returns, among other items.
And there's more. The IRS web site is always growing. For information on a subject not mentioned here, visit its Tax Map for help.