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Ready? Set? File! Tax season is finally here

NEED TO KNOW
  • IRS begins accepting returns Wednesday
  • Delay was caused by wrangling over fiscal cliff
  • People who claim certain credits will have to wait longer
Ready? Set? File! Tax season is finally here

Filing taxes is right up there with getting a root canal. Even if you have a professional prepare your return, you still have to round up all the documents. And there always seems to be something missing. Shoebox full of receipts, anybody?

The good news is, the vast majority of us can go ahead and get it over with.

After a delay caused by the back-and-forth over the fiscal cliff, the IRS began accepting returns Wednesday. And a lot of people won't have to pay a penny to file. If your adjusted gross income is $57,000 or less, you can use the IRS' Free File.

However, not everyone can file right away. Because of fiscal cliff-induced delays, the IRS is still updating its systems to process more than 30 forms. So, if you're claiming tax credits for things like education, adopting a child, or energy-efficient home upgrades, you'll have to wait several weeks to file your return.

But, if you can file now, it pays to do so for a very important reason. The earlier you file, the greater your chance of avoiding tax-related identity theft. It's a growing problem. The IRS reported 642,000 incidents in the first nine months of 2012, compared with 242,000 in all of 2011. Victims of identity theft may have to wait six months or more to get their refunds.

There's one sure way to limit the damage, and that's to adjust your withholding so you get a very small refund, break even, or owe a small amount. Lots of people are addicted to getting that big tax refund check in the spring, and some see over-withholding as a method of forced savings. But you're giving the government an interest-free loan all year long, not to mention letting a pile of cash accumulate for an identity thief to steal.

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