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Last-minute tax tips for procrastinators

Getting an extra two days to file tax returns beyond the usual April 15 deadline isn’t likely to cure procrastination. More than 30 percent of taxpayers filed the week before Tax Day or later via extensions in 2011, and Internal Revenue Service statistics show the pace is similar this year.

Procrastinating may come at a price.

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“The amount of work that’s going to need to be done at the last minute is no less just because you’ve waited, and the potential for errors is greater,’’ says Suzanne Shier, at Northern Trust Bank. “There’s not really an upside to waiting.’’

So you probably should dive in now. Here are some points to keep in mind:

The price of rushing. It’s easy to miss deductions that will lower your taxes. You might not try as hard to look for them.

Along with making math errors, late filers are prone to transposing Social Security numbers or birthdates. Not only can such snags delay your refund, you might not be allowed to file online if all the numbers don’t match up.

Don’t use estimates because you’re short on time. Round-figure estimates don’t help you avoid an audit.

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Deductions. There’s only about one action you can take at this late date to reduce your taxes: contributing to an individual retirement account for 2011. Taxpayers have until Tax Day to do that.

Make sure you claim all eligible deductions for moves you made last year.

Charitable contributions are high on any list of deductions often missed. Diligently go through your checking account and credit card accounts to check for specifics of that $300, or $500 you recall giving to your church favorite charity.

If your health expenditures shot up last year, be aware you may deduct the amount by which your total medical care expenses for the year exceeded 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income.

A lot of taxpayers also fail to take deductions for eligible gambling losses. Just as gambling winnings are fully taxable and must be reported, losses from horse races, casinos, and other legal wagers may be deducted.

Getting help. If you had no significant changes from the previous year, it should be easy to file online, until midnight Tuesday. Do-it-yourself software walks you through trouble spots. If you’ve had a life change such as a move, new job, baby, or withdrawn money from a retirement account, that might be the trigger to see a tax preparer.

Easy extensions. Those who think they may miss the deadline should ask for more time by submitting form 4868. Six-month extensions are granted automatically.

Pay up. If you owe taxes, you still have to pay by April 17. The extension is just to get your filing in. Whatever you do, don’t skip the process. Not filing a return is considered tax evasion - with civil and criminal penalties.

Dave Carpenter writes for the Associated Press.

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