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Tax deadline is nearing
msnbc.com
updated 4/13/2009 10:52:46 AM ET 2009-04-13T14:52:46

Get free help
If you can’t find what you need on irs.gov, you can talk to a live person at IRS' free hotline (800-829-1040). If you’re a senior or make $42,000 or less, you can visit an IRS taxpayer assistance center  (www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=107626,00.html.) AARP offers the same help at Tax-Aide (http://www.aarp.org/money/taxaide/) centers around the country.

File late or pay late?
If you know you owe the IRS, and also know that you can’t pay now, file anyway. The penalty for not filing starts at 5 percent of unpaid tax for every month, maxing out at 25 percent of your bill. If you pay late, the monthly penalty is half a percentage point in interest.

Lose your job in 2008?
Some good news: Assuming you paid taxes on any unemployment checks, you’re poised for a bigger refund. Show that your income loss entitles you to a greater stimulus check or the Earned Income Credit. You can also deduct job-search expenses such as resume prep and phone bills. Check out IRS document 529 (http://www.irs.gov/publications/p529/index.html).

Deduct this: property taxes
If you don't itemize, you can still get an extra credit in 2008 and 2009 for paying property taxes, called the Standard Deduction for Real Estate Taxes. Using Form 1040 or 1040A, you can deduct up to $500 if you’re single and $1,000 if you’re married.

Don’t get scammed
If you receive an e-mail from the IRS requesting personal info — presumably to get you your refund — odds are it’s a scam. The IRS never e-mails people and it doesn’t seek out folks who need refunds. If you receive such an e-mail, forward it to phishing@irs.gov.

Get gas money
If you drove your car for your business last year, the IRS felt your pain at the pump — twice. Use these two mileage rates for deducting business-related auto expenses: 50.5 cents per mile for the first half of 2008, and 58.5 cents for July though December. For other mileage rates, see (http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/a-08-63.pdf).Adjust your bottom line
In one way, it’s still 2008. If you want to lower your 2008 Adjusted Gross Income, and potentially score more credits and deductions, you still have time.  Until April 15, you can contribute up to $5,000 to a deductible IRA or a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP).

To itemize or not to itemize?
Think your empire is too basic to itemize? If you spent more than $5,490 (and $10,900 if you're married) in 2008 on mortgage interest, property taxes, sales tax and charities — which, these days, isn't that hard to do — you're better off using form 1040A and itemizing.

Did you get enough stimulus?
Make sure you got your fair share of the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008. Even if you got a check for $600 (single) or $1,200 (married) last year, a new baby or a drop in income may mean you’re entitled to more. Find out by using the Recovery Rebate Calculator (http://www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=187383,00.html).

Need a tax preparer?
Choose a certified public accountant (CPA), tax attorney or enrolled agent (www.naea.org), as those are the only pros who could legally represent you in an audit. Steer clear of any preparer who’s online-only or whose fee is contingent on your refund.

File fast (and free)
The IRS’s Free File (http://www.irs.gov/efile/article/0,,id=118986,00.html) program has expanded. Almost any income-level taxpayer can now use the online Free File Fillable Forms, which let you enter info and do basic calculations. Even better, your refund may come in only 10 days, as opposed to six weeks via snail mail.

Do you work from home?
The IRS says most home-based workers are ethical when it comes to deductions, but the following are no-nos: deducting “excessive” car expenses when the vehicle is used for both personal and work reasons; deducting personal meals, travel or entertainment and using the “everyone-is-a-potential-client” ruse.

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