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As deadline nears, it's time for a tax season survival guide

Published February 25, 2012 3:58 pm

A few tips to help ease anxieties about your return.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Tax season can be one of the most stressful times of the year.

Recently, I offered tips on how to get your federal return prepared for free. Today, the focus is on how to get answers to the myriad questions that can pop up this time of year:

Talk to a real person • The Internal Revenue Service operates a walk-in help site at 50 S. 200 East in downtown Salt Lake City. The center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. The Utah State Tax Commission has a walk-in center at 210 N. 1950 West. That office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Either office provides an opportunity to get answers to your questions in person.

Get an extension • Can't get your tax return done in time by the deadline, which this year is April 17? You can request an extension, but keep in mind that it's an extension to file, not to pay. An extension does not give you extra time to pay taxes you owe. Go to 1.usa.gov/10stH for more information. If you are unable to pay your entire tax liability, to lessen penalties file a return and pay what you can. Then work with the IRS to set up a payment plan. See "Online Payment Agreement" at IRS.gov for more information.

Check on your refund • Once you file, you can check the status of your refund online by going to irs.gov and clicking on "Where's my Refund" on the right-hand side of the page. You'll need to enter your Social Security Number, filing status and anticipated refund amount to use this tool.

What if you've had a short sale or foreclosure? • Do you need to pay taxes on forgiven or canceled debt? It depends. Go to 1.usa.gov/gR3OVO to find out.

Figure out what to do with a 1099-K • Do you sell items online? A number of Utahns who do have received this form in recent weeks. New IRS regulations require that all businesses that process online payments file a Form 1099-K for clients who conduct at least 200 transactions or gross at least $20,000 in one year. Go to irs.gov and click on "I got a 1099-K" or type in 1099-K in the site's search field.

See if you qualify for free tax prep • The IRS, through a variety of organizations such as AARP, offers low- to moderate-income taxpayers help with preparing their returns. Go to 1.usa.gov/yRqP0J for links to all the agencies offering this type of assistance.

In addition to these in-person tax-prep options, all Utah taxpayers can prepare and file their tax returns online directly with the Internal Revenue Service through its Free File program. The services provides electronic filing — and in many cases free tax preparation. Go to 1.usa.gov/15mpr for more information.

Avoid tax-time scams • Each year during the tax season, scam artists make phone calls and send emails, faxes or notices that claim to be from the IRS. Many of these scams are designed to trick you into revealing your personal financial information. A number are very sophisticated and even contain the official IRS name and logo.

Here are some facts about the IRS that can help you avoid common scams. The agency isn't going to call or send you an email asking you for your personal information or for information such as credit card or account numbers, PIN numbers and/or passwords.

The agency also does not initiate communication with taxpayers by email to, say, tell you about a problem for the first time. If you receive an email that appears to be from the IRS, don't reply, don't open any attachments and do not click on any links. Forward any suspicious emails to phishing@irs.gov.

If you receive any type of communication purporting to be from the IRS — whether it be a phone call, fax or letter — you can call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 to inquire whether it is legitimate.

For more information on other tax-time scams, go to 1.usa.gov/wliQA7.

By the way, if you are trying to log on to the IRS website, go to IRS.gov. Sites with other domain name endings, such as irs.com, irs.net and irs.org are not affiliated with the federal agency.

Account for unemployment benefits • Go to 1.usa.gov/xBDMx7 for tips on how to deal with jobless claims on your tax return.

Lesley Mitchell writes One Cheap Chick in daily blog form at blogs.sltrib.com/cheap. lesley@sltrib.com Twitter: @cheapchick Facebook: Facebook.com/OneCheapChick