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Tax time beckons in 2009
Sour economy may spur early filings
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Forsyth County News

April 15 may seem far away, but local experts say January is a great time to start preparing tax returns.

"It's like anything, the more you plan, the more money you are able to save, so it's definitely a good idea to plan early," said Mark Miserly, a Liberty Tax Services franchise owner.

"A lot of people ... come in late in the tax season," he said. "They know they're under the gun and they're just starting to prepare. The less prepared that you are, the less deductions you generally qualify for."

Miserly, who owns Liberty locations in Cumming and Dawsonville, recommends making a New Year's resolution to start doing quarterly checkups to review paperwork, investments and income. Quarterly reviews will allow for changes, so taxpayers aren't hit with unexpected liabilities.

Karen Garrett, owner of the Jackson Hewitt Tax Services location in Cumming, said the best way to prepare is daily.

She suggests doing what she does with every new tax-related document she receives.

"I've got a folder I just stick [paperwork] into," she said. "Making sure you have all of your papers together when you come in is definitely going to get you the most accurate tax return that you can get. And you really don't want to have to deal with the IRS a second time around."

With an organized folder, taxpayers should have to wait only to receive W-2 forms from their employers.

Judy Pair, owner of the Cumming H&R Block, said it's likely more clients have done their organizing this year and are ready to file their taxes as early as possible.

"With the economy the way it is, we anticipate that there are going to be a lot of people that want money sooner than later this year," she said. "There might be more people in early because of needing to get their refunds quicker."

There haven't been any significant changes to the tax code in the past year, which Pair said should make the process less complicated than years past, when changes led to delays and confusion.

There is one major opportunity for taxpayers, but only new homeowners who purchased their home on or after April 9.

A federal housing tax credit of up to $7,500 is available to first-time buyers, which Miserly said is an added incentive for taxpayers to be timely on their returns.

"The credit must be paid back in equal payments for 15 years," he said, adding that the loan is interest-free, giving some relief to new homeowners.

Pair said taxpayers should also know how much they received in their stimulus check from last year to make sure they received the full amount.

While it's never too early to prepare, the IRS won't accept returns prior to Jan. 16.

Pair said it's good to "start getting their things together now ... so that as soon as the IRS starts accepting returns, their return is ready to go."

This will be a big year for the 1099 form, which people who pulled money from a 401K or pension must use, Garrett said. Especially this year, with many people likely to claim losses, stock sales or changes in income.

Garrett said it's important to "have documentation for the cost basis for any of the investments that you've sold, because of course you can take a $3,000 capital loss every year."

"The main things are making sure that you have all of your tax documents in order," Garrett said. "So if you don't get what you need, you can follow up on them so that you can get your taxes filed early."