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Avoid these five common mistakes for a better tax outcome

CNBC logo CNBC 1/04/2017 Tom Anderson
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For most of us, the end of tax season is nigh. If you are rushing to finish your return, slow down to prevent some of the most common errors taxpayers make when filing.

Filing for the 2016 tax year ends Tuesday, April 18. (If you ask for an extension, then you have until Oct. 16.) This year, the IRS expects taxpayers to file more than 153 million returns.

You can prevent some of the basic mistakes that trip up many taxpayers by following the steps outlined by Jill Gonzalez, senior analyst at personal finance website WalletHub, which she shared with CNBC's "On the Money."

Here are five errors you can easily avoid:

1. Failing to file a return at all

You can't win if you don't play. Penalties for failing to file a tax return are usually more than any late payment fines you would owe the IRS. So even if you owe money, it is better to file and work out a deal with the taxman.

If you received an IRS tax bill or notice in the mail, call the phone number listed on your notice. You can also call the toll-free tax help line for individuals at 1-800-829-1040.

2. Not organizing your records before you begin

Filling out the forms are hard enough without having all the documents at your fingertips.

You should have a W-2 from your employer as well as 1099-MISC if you had any side hustles, which includes income from the sharing economy like Uber and Airbnb. "It all comes down to keeping good records," Gonzalez said.

Here's a list of all the key documents you will need to file your return.

3. Doing the math wrong

You don't have to go it alone when figuring out how much you owe. There are plenty of free options, especially if you have an uncomplicated financial life. The IRS estimates that 70 percent of taxpayers are eligible for IRS Free File, its free tax-preparation-and-filing software.

"Many taxpayers skip itemizing their deductions, even though it could save them money," Gonzalez said. "Tax software can help make itemization easier and reduce math mistakes."

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4. Forgetting to sign your returns

This mindless mistake will attract unwanted attention from the IRS staff.

If you are doing your taxes by hand, use sticky notes to mark the place where you need to sign, Gonzalez said. Also, double-check to make sure your Social Security number used on the return is correct.

Tax software can help reduce these unforced errors.

5. Not storing your returns securely

Once you mail in your return, or transmit it electronically, you may think you're done with tax season. Wrong.

Tax fraud rakes in billions of dollars each year. The IRS estimates that it prevented $22.5 billion in attempted identity-theft tax fraud, but paid out $3.1 billion in fake refunds in 2014, the most recent year available.

Finish strong by keeping the paper and electronic copies of your tax returns in a secure place — and shred all documents you don't need, Gonzalez said.

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