Last-Minute Tax Tips Tuesday marks the deadline for 2006 tax returns. Our personal finance contributor offers some last-minute tips for all of you who will be rushing to the post office.

Last-Minute Tax Tips

Last-Minute Tax Tips

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Tuesday marks the deadline for 2006 tax returns. Our personal finance contributor offers some last-minute tips for all of you who will be rushing to the post office.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Tonight at midnight is the deadline to file your taxes. And if you're finishing or even starting today, you're not alone. The IRS expects 24 million returns to be filed this week. DAY TO DAY's personal finance contributor Michelle Singletary is here to help us through these desperate times. Welcome back to the show, Michelle.

MICHELLE SINGLETARY: Thank you.

BRAND: Well, okay, so if you're one of these last minuters, what you have to know if you're filing?

SINGLETARY: Don't expect your post office to have extended hours. The post office reports that they only process the top 5.5 million tax returns today. So because of that, even though that sounds like a lot, they normally process, like, over 700 million. So you should call to find out because you may be doing a tax as late in thinking that they're going to be open and they won't be.

And you can go online to the U.S. Post Office Web site. You can call 1-800-275-8777 to find out which offices are going to be open late.

BRAND: Well, speaking of online, can you just e-mail your tax return?

SINGLETARY: Yeah. You know, the fastest way is to e-file, and you can do that with your home computer, but you have to go through a tax professional. So if you've got that tax software that you bought, you can do it through that company or find a local tax person that will e-file for you. It is the fastest way awful(ph) to get your return, so certainly that is an option.

BRAND: And any other advantages other than the speed of e-filing?

SINGLETARY: When you e-file, it helps check your math, make sure all the information is supposed to be on the form, like your social security number -all those kinds of things that sometimes people forget at the last minute.

BRAND: Well, when people are filing late, what are the most common mistakes they make?

SINGLETARY: Well, you know, believe it or not, if you're going to mail it, they forget to sign and date the form. They sometimes forget to put their social security number on there. And sometimes, the check is not made out to the appropriate agency. They may put IRS on there, but your check should be made payable - if federal return, that is - to the United States Treasury.

BRAND: Let's say you just know you're not going to make the deadline; how easy or hard it is to get an extension?

SINGLETARY: It's very easy. You know, in fact, the IRS expects to receive about 9.9 million extensions this year. But if you want an automatic extension to file your return, you have to file Form 4868, and it's called the application for automatic extension to file.

And this is not an extension to pay your taxes. Many people confuse that. The extension is to file your return, but not to pay. So if you owe, you have to put in that check for how much you owe. And if some people say, well, if you do that you might as well file. But there's some other reasons why you may not. Filing an extension gives you some time to, say, fund a retirement plan. Or maybe you don't have all your documents together to send with your return. But again, you have to pay if you owe. And if you don't, there is a penalty for failure to file.

BRAND: Well, thanks Michelle. Those are some good tips.

SINGLETARY: You're welcome.

BRAND: Michelle Singletary is our regular expert on personal finance, and she writes the nationally syndicated column "The Color of Money." And she also has a new NPR podcast. It's free. You can find out by going online to npr.org/colorofmoney. That's all one word. You can also write to Michelle. Go to our Web site npr.org. Click on the Contact Us link - that's at the top of every page - and be sure to include "Michelle" in your subject line.

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BRAND: And DAY TO DAY continues in a moment.

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