Today, the majority of individual taxpayers file their tax returns electronically rather than on old fashioned paper. The IRS says electronic filers are 20 times less likely to make a mistake on their returns than paper filers. Nevertheless, mistakes still occur. If the IRS owes you a refund, it could be delayed if your return contains an error. Many of the mistakes people make are incredibly easy to avoid...it just takes a little care and attention.
The IRS has released a list of eight of the most common filing errors. We've split them into two categories: incredibly stupid errors, and less stupid errors.
Incredibly Stupid Errors
Here are the errors no one has an excuse for making.
1. Wrong or missing Social Security numbers: Your refund could be delayed simply because you made a mistake listing your Social Security number. The number on your return must match the number on your Social Security cards. This should be a no-brainer.
2. Names wrong or misspelled: You've got to spell your own name right, or the IRS will get confused. Again, your name on your return should match the name on your Social Security card. If you've changed your name since you filed your last return, see the Nolo article "Name Changes and the IRS."
3. Math mistakes. Your math needs to add up. This ordinarily isn't a problem if you file electronically, since the software does the math for you. Because most people file electronically, math errors have gone down. Such errors were found in 2% of returns filed in 2012, less than one-fifth the rate for 2002. Still, if you file on paper, be sure to double-check your math.
4 Wrong bank account numbers: The IRS will direct deposit your refund directly into your bank account. But you have to give the correct account number. Duh!
5. Forms not signed, dated: The IRS says that an unsigned tax return is like an unsigned check – it’s invalid. Also, remember both spouses must sign a joint return.
6. Electronic signature errors. If you e-file your tax return, you sign the return electronically by using a Personal Identification Number (PIN). For security purposes, the IRS software will ask you to enter the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) from your return for last year. This should be the AGI from the return you originally filed. If you later amended your return, or the IRS provided you with a different AGI after correct your return, don't use those numbers. You may also use last year's PIN if you e-filed last year and remember your PIN.
Less Stupid Errors
Taxes can get complicated, and it's easy to make mistakes like the following:
1. Filing status errors: Your filing status means whether you file your return as single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, head of household, or qualifying widow(er) with dependent child. Usually, it is pretty obvious what your status should be, but there can be complications. If you e-file your return, the software will help you choose the right filing status. For more information, see the Nolo article "What's Your Filing Status?"
2. Errors in figuring credits, deductions: This is where taxes can get complicated. Moreover, a mistake here can cost you extra taxes or prevent you from getting a refund. For example, if you are age 65 or older or blind, you're entitled to a larger than normal standard deduction. But you must claim the deduction on your return. The same goes for tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit and common deductions such as charitable deductions. Seek help if you aren't sure about which credits and deductions you're entitled to.