With spring being filing season, it seems like a good time to review all of your finances to see how you're doing. For the first time, we filed our 1040 long form by hand. I had previously done an amended return by hand but did not know what to expect. And given my profession, there was no excuse to not know how to do this.
IRS does offer free efile with all the bells and whistles of the tax software you buy but you have to meet an income requirement. If you don't meet that, they will let you use a program that does nothing but add and subtract the lines for you at the end. And pretty unreliably. The 2009 1040 instructions are available on the IRS website in PDF format which makes it super easy to search for what you're looking for. We actually found using the instructions very straightforward. We easily figured out what schedules and forms we needed and the tax tables could not be clearer.
The funny part is we'd actually started online with Turbo Tax because it said it was going to be free. When we got to the last page where it's submitted, it suddenly wanted to charge $50. The fee is what prompted us to try to file ourselves in the first place. And it was nice to see in the end that our total matched theirs, so we're confident we did it correctly. The only thing I'll change next year is not relying on the IRS-provided software to do the math. We had to double and triple check it because it would ignore your entries until you left the page and returned. A calculator will be faster . =)
Since we had all of our records out for filing, I wanted to try to take care of something else I'd been putting off. When we moved from Bothell, I thought I'd updated our address with every company we deal with. At work, I updated it on our payroll site and our HR site. We also had our mail forwarded with the post office. A few months ago I received a somewhat threatening letter from my TSP stating they know I moved (via USPS) but I haven't updated my address with them. At the time, not knowing where my records were for them, I couldn't find my account number. But there is a button! And when you submit your info, they advise you that they are not emailing your account number. They are mailing in USPS and it will take at least 10 days.
Fast forwards several months, because I kind of forgot about it. I was getting concerned because I've now been employed for a year and want to re-evaluate how my funds are distributed. I found my password when we have all of records out doing taxes. I was excited to finally be able to log in to update my address. The website informed me that only my payroll can update my address. Now I'm completely confused, because my pay stubs get mailed to our home address indicating they already have our correct address on record. Morale: The government is frustrating to deal with even if you work for them!
While I'm on the topic, if it's been more than a year since you updated your distribution of funds in your retirement account, you need to do it! It only takes 5 or 10 minutes but can mean a difference of thousands of dollars when you're ready to retire. Also, if you haven't requested your free annual credit report in the past year, now is a good time! www.annualcreditreport.com is the only one recommended by the FTC. And finally, if you haven't filed your taxes yet and your income is such that they are going to charge you a fee for it, try it on your own. The tax prep industry wants to perpetuate the idea that taxes are intimidating and should only be handled by professionals. Or another I've heard is that you'll miss out on credits. If you know how to use the find feature on Adobe and search for "credit" (with a few find nexts to make sure you catch everything), you really won't miss out on anything. There aren't secret tax credits that aren't in the instructions, they just want your money.