Expert Advice: How to Ace Your Taxes

The income tax filing deadline is now July 15, but Jacob Peng says don’t wait if a refund would come in handy.


The list of disruptions caused by coronavirus includes the income tax filing day, which has been pushed back to July 15. But if you’re expecting a refund, now is still an opportune time to file, especially if some extra funds would be helpful to your budget. Here are some tax tips for getting a jump on your 1040.

Itemizing may not be worth it. The standard deduction was doubled in 2018, and limits were place on some common itemized items, such as state and local taxes and mortgage interest. Fewer taxpayers are itemizing now because of the change.

Be organized if you itemize. Having good records in a place you can find them makes filing much easier. It also reduces your stress levels. And if the IRS follows up with a request for further information, knowing where to find the paperwork will help tremendously. Just keep receipts you are using for deductions in a box; you don’t need to be super organized.

Use your IRA. The IRS has pushed the deadline to July 15 for tax-deductible contributions to qualifying individual retirement accounts, or IRAs. That can be a significant tax saving tool. For the 2019 tax year, the contribution maxes out at $6,000 for traditional or Roth IRAs. There are limits for higher income taxpayers.

With investments, think long term. Timing the sale of an investment, such as stocks or other financial instruments, has tax ramifications. If you make money selling an investment you owned for less than a year, that is considered a short-term capital gain and is taxed as ordinary income. More than a year, and it’s a long-term capital gain, which has a ceiling of 20 percent and can be considerably lower depending on your tax bracket.

Beware of scammers. They come out at tax season each year, promising guaranteed refunds, or pretending to be IRS auditors demanding an immediate payment or else you’ll go to jail. The IRS will never call you. If there’s a problem, they will send you mail, a lot of them. Calm down and think before you act. And they never ask for payment in an unconventional fashion, such as with gift cards.

Jacob Peng is an associate professor of accounting and head of the department of accounting and taxation at the RMU School of Business, which offers free tax filing assistance for low-income individuals and families each year. His latest paper, “How Does Tax Aggressiveness Affect Shareholder Wealth? An Examination Using a Regulatory Transition,” has been accepted for publication by The International Journal of Accounting.