News you can use right now

Here’s a round-up of good recent stories tied to Tax Day (deadline’s tomorrow) and one of my favorite topics, credit scores.

Can’t pay? Amy Feldman’s article “What if you can’t pay your taxes?” for Reuters walks you through what to do if you’re facing a big bill, rather than a refund. Bottom line: don’t ignore the problem.

Tax liens and credit scores. The IRS has many ways to make your life miserable if you don’t pay your taxes. One weapon used by the IRS and other tax authorities is the tax lien, which can trash your credit scores and which is one of the few negative items that can show up on your credit report indefinitely if you fail to pay. Learn more from Tom Quinn’s column “Not paying your taxes can hurt your credit score” on Credit.com.

Plan to buy a car with your refund? If you’re one of the many getting money back from Uncle Sam and considering using it to buy another car, beware. Dealers know you’re coming, and you don’t want to have a big red target on your back. “Dealers are well aware that buyers may suddenly have an influx of cash on hand this time of year, so it’s not uncommon to see promotions and offers tied to tax season,” says Carroll Lachnit, Consumer Advice Editor at Edmunds.com. “And while there are good deals to be had on new cars, we strongly encourage consumers to take advantage of every research tool at their disposal before they plunk down their refunds as down payments.” For more, read Edmunds.com’s “Do your research before spending tax refund dollars at the car dealership.”

Good credit scores and a fat down payment may not be enough. You’ve heard that it’s harder to get mortgage these days, but you might be surprised at how much harder it is. Real estate columnist Kenneth Harney details the average FICO scores, down payments and debt-to-income ratios of those who did and didn’t get a mortgage in February. Most shocking: the group that got turned down had numbers that would have made them great candidates for loans just a few years ago.

Unexpected ways to better your numbers. Speaking of credit scores, Daniel Bortz wrote “6 surprising ways to boost your credit score” for U.S. News. I’m quoted, along with Beverly Herzog of Credit.com, Bill Hardekopf of LowCards.com and Anthony Sprauve of FICO.

 

Missing or bogus tax forms? Here’s what to do

A couple of my Facebook fans haven’t gotten their taxes done because they’re missing key forms–one has a W-2 that’s incorrect, while the other is missing a 1099-R.

These aren’t unusual problems, so I’m hooking you up with the resources you’ll need if you’re facing a similar situation. Here’s what to do:

Gather relevant information. In the case of a missing or incorrect W-2, you’ll want to have handy the employer’s exact name, address and Employer Identification Number (EIN) if possible. (You can find the EIN on a previous year’s W2, if you have that.) It’s also handy to know what the missing or incorrect form SHOULD say, if you have that information from your year-end pay stub or bank records.

Call the IRS at 800-829-1040. Expect to spend a fair bit of time on hold, as they’re a bit busy this time of year. In the future, you can call the agency if you haven’t received a form by Feb. 15 (in other words, don’t wait until the last minute).

Explain the problem. With missing or incorrect W-2s, ask the agent to open a Form W-2 complaint. You’ll need to fill out a Form 4852, which is a substitute W-2 you fill out using the information you have, such as a year-end pay stub. You can find the form and other information here. Missing 1099s often aren’t a big deal, since you don’t need to attach them to your form, with the exception of the 1099-R, which reports tax withheld on retirement plan distributions.

Expect this to delay your refund. If you can’t get a corrected form in time (which is doubtful, at this point), your refund may be held up while the IRS verifies your information.

You may need to file an amended return. If you get a corrected form after the tax-filing deadline and the amounts are different than the ones you entered on your form, you may have to file a 1040X amended return.

You could also consider filing for an automatic six-month extension. You’ll still need to pay any tax owed by April 17, and could face some penalties if you underpay, so use this as a last resort.