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Tax day tips: Eight things to check before April 17 tax deadline

Tax day comes a little later this year, but we're still in the homestretch. Here are some basics you need to follow before the federal tax deadline.

By Staff writer / April 13, 2012

Taxpayers search through tax forms at the Illinois Department of Revenue in Springfield, Ill., in this file photo.

Seth Perlman/AP

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Taxpayers get a little longer to file this year, thanks to a quirky federal law that turns the District of Columbia's Emancipation Day holiday into a nationwide tax extension.

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But the tax deadline will still come soon. Are you ready?

Here are some things to check or consider if you still have the good old "1040 Form" on your to-do list.

1. Can you hit the deadline?

If you're struggling to find the time, or have an unresolved question, you don't have to file your whole tax return on April 17. You can always file for an extension, giving you until mid-October. To do that, fill out form 4868 and mail it by April 17.

Or an electronic option for many filers is the "Free File" system on the IRS.gov website. (Free File should be visible under "hot topics" on the Internal Revenue Service home page. After clicking that link, look for "Can't make the April 17 deadline?" for guidance.)

2. If you owe money, get ready to pay.

Remember, whether you file your full return or an extension, the IRS wants you to pay any money you owe by the Tuesday deadline. (Make your best estimate if filing an extension.) Maybe that's an incentive to finish your taxes. There's still a weekend and a couple of days to go!

3. Do you have capital gains to be reported?

Gains on the sale of most assets are reported this year in a different way, on a new sheet called Form 8949. Then the numbers flow to the traditional Schedule D (and from there onto your Form 1040).

Check your documents, such as the statements mailed from your brokerage firm about sales of stocks or mutual funds, to make sure the original "cost basis" of an asset is what you expected.

4. Have you grabbed all the deductions and credits you can?

This can shave big bucks off your tax bill. In a separate story, we've listed lots of the available deductions, from mortgage interest and charitable gifts to college costs and state income taxes (or, alternatively, state sales taxes).

5. Have you contributed to an IRA if you can?

Individual Retirement Arrangements offer big long-term tax benefits as a way to save for retirement. You can still put money in, for 2011, up until April 17.

If it's a traditional IRA, your immediate deduction can be as high as $5,000 in contributions, or $6,000 if you're over age 50. If it's a Roth IRA, you don't get a deduction now, but the money will be untaxed when you withdraw during retirement.

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