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If you are like many Americans, you just may be waiting until the last minute to file your income taxes. Here are some helpful tips to get you through the madness.

Tax Day is April 18, 2011

You get three extra days! Due to Emancipation Day, a holiday celebrated in Washington, DC on April 15th this year, the IRS extended the filing deadline until the next business day: April 18. California is also using the same deadline. Emancipation Day is an observation of the freeing of slaves.

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Tax Forms

If you find that you don’t have the necessary forms for filing. You can visit the Internal Revenue Service Website: IRS.gov and specifically, find the forms at: http://www.irs.gov/formspubs/ For California, the Franchise Tax Board (FTB) is there to help at FTB.CA.gov and the forms are at http://ftb.ca.gov/forms/search/index.aspx

Free Online Filing

California’s Franchise Tax Board has two free e-file programs: http://ftb.ca.gov/readyReturn/index.asp is for taxpayers who used the single or head of household filing status the prior year, had one employer, claimed no more than five dependents, and took the standard deduction. ReadyReturn pulls data from wage reports and past tax returns to generate a completed return online. Most taxpayers completed the process in less than 15 minutes. For more complex filing needs, http://ftb.ca.gov/online/calfile/index.asp is the state’s other no-cost, easy-to-use e-file option that is available to more than 6.4 million taxpayers.

The IRS provides a list of file providers at http://apps.irs.gov/app/freeFile/jsp/index.jsp but make sure you check the rules as there are income limits and state restrictions that vary. Of course, make sure that you e-file, http://www.irs.gov/efile/index.html which means file electronically. This will allow you to have your return processed quicker, pay your taxes electronically and/or receive your refund faster and by direct deposit. Usually within 7-10 days.

US Post Offices with Extended Hours

More Info

If you really, really have to put your tax returns in the mail, you are going to want them postmarked by midnight on the 18th. These are the few So. Cal. post offices with extended hours (past 6:00pm).

Airport Station
9029 Airport Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90009
Mail collection: midnight
Retail service: midnight

Industry P&DC
15421 E. Gale Ave.
City of Industry CA 91715
Mail collection: midnight
Retail service: 6 p.m.

Long Beach P&DC
2300 Redondo Ave.
Long Beach CA 90809
Mail collection: midnight
Retail service: 7 p.m.

Los Angeles Post Office
7001 S. Central Ave.
Los Angeles CA 90001
Mail collection: midnight
Retail service: 10 p.m.

Pasadena P&DC
600 Lincoln Ave.
Pasadena CA 91109
Mail collection: 10 p.m.
Retail service: 10 p.m.

Santa Ana P&DC
3101 W. Sunflower Ave.
Santa Ana CA 92799
Mail collection: midnight
Retail service: 7 p.m.

Van Nuys Post Office
15701 Sherman Way
Van Nuys CA 91409
Mail collection: midnight
Retail service: midnight

B&B Pharmacy
Contact Postal Unit
18525 Yorba Linda Blvd.
Yorba Linda CA 92886
Mail collection: 10 p.m.
Retail service: 10 p.m.

File For an Extension

More Info – Federal
More Info – CA

If you still can’t get your tax act together, then you will need to file for an extension via form 4868 from the IRS website and via form FTB 3519 on the CA FTB website. Mail the forms in by Monday at the latest, or you can e-file the extensions to delay your tax filing deadline until October 17, 2011. But, filing an extension does NOT let you off the hook for paying taxes you owe, you still need to send in your best estimate of what you owe or face penalties and interest. Once you really get your returns done and you find you have overpaid, you can get a refund. Your best bet may be to consult a tax professional.

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No Worries?

If you know you owe no taxes or will be getting a refund, you can file after the deadline. But, why wait to get your refund or find out about possible tax credits that will allow you to get a refund? It’s always worth doing your taxes and you might be pleasantly surprised to find you have money coming your way.

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Consider Your Future

More Info

Everyone should be saving for retirement. You are allowed to contribute up to $5,000 per year ($6,000 if you were 50 or older in 2010) to an Individual Retirement Account which is usually simply called an “IRA”. You have until April 18th to make a prior year (2010) contribution. Depending on your income and some other factors, if you find you owe money to Uncle Sam, it may be wise to investigate making a deductible IRA contribution. Some taxpayers will also be eligible for Roth IRA contributions. Contact an investment company such as Fidelity, Charles Schwab or Vanguard to find out how to get started.

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Check It Once, Check It Twice

Basic math errors, missing information and something as simple as forgetting to sign your tax forms in the mad last minute rush can cause you a big headache. So, although you are doing it last minute, take an extra minute to check your return for mistakes, you’ll be doing yourself a favor. Trust me.

Elizabeth Peterson loves quotes like “The legal right of a taxpayer to decrease the amount of what otherwise would be his taxes, or altogether avoid them, by means which the law permits, cannot be doubted.” (U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sutherland,1965) and can often be found quoting people over on her personal blog Traded My BMW For a Minivan.