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Fretting about filing? Still time to tackle taxes

"Today" financial editor Jean Chatzky offers tips for last-minute filers.

It’s April 14. You would think that brings us down to the wire in terms of filing your taxes. But in fact this year since tax day falls on a Saturday, you get a little leeway. For most of the country tax day is April 17. In New England it’s April 18.

Still, according to the IRS approximately 45 million people haven’t filed their taxes yet.

According to a survey from the cities with the greatest percentage of procrastinators include:1. San Diego, Calif. 2. San Jose, Calif.3. Chicago, Ill.4. Houston, Texas5. New York, NY6. San Francisco, Calif.7. Phoenix, Ariz.8. Tucson Ariz.9. Atlanta, Ga.10. Los Angeles, Calif.

Aside from New York and Chicago, I’d say the large number of warm weather cities on the list suggest the inhabitants are suffering from a case of spring fever. Time to put those shorts and volleyballs away and do some serious work this weekend.

If you’re among the 35 million people who have yet to file, here are some things to keep in mind.

Electronic is better. Last year 66 million Americans efiled their taxes — 11 percent more than the year earlier. This year, that number is on track to jump again. There are a number of reasons why electronic filing is preferable. You get your refund back faster. You get confirmation that your return has been received and it’s in good shape within a day or so — which alleviates a lot of mental strain. But also, according to the IRS, people tend to make more mistakes the closer they get to the filing deadline. That makes sense; they’re rushing. If you file electronically you make fewer mistakes. On average one out of every five paper returns has an error. One out of 100 electronic returns has one. I like those odds.

Extensions are available. If you don’t have time to finish your taxes, you can file form 4868 for an automatic extension. This year for the first time you’ll get an automatic 6 months — which takes you into the fall — rather than four months. But remember, this is an extension to file. It is not an extension to pay. As long as you submit your extension on time and make a good faith estimate of your tax liability, the IRS will not assess a late-filing penalty. However, they will charge you interest on the unpaid balance and assess a late-payment penalty of 1/2 of 1 percent of the unpaid tax per month up to a maximum of 25 percent. If you can’t pay, you should contact the IRS about an installment agreement. They readily grant installment arrangements.

Don’t rush the details. Not only do people make mistakes at the end of the filing season, they take shortcuts — like taking the standard deduction instead of trying to itemize which could save more money. Too many shortcuts means less in your pocket and more in Uncle Sam. So make sure that a) if you’re unmarried and maintained a household in 2005 for a child, parent or other qualifying relative you look at filing as head of household instead of single. That will generally save you money. Make sure you take all the education and child credits you’re eligible for. Make sure if you do maintain a qualifying home office you deduct that as well. If you’re a teacher who bought school supplies out of her own pocket you can deduct up to $250 of the cost and you don’t have to itemize. And be sure you’ve taken all other breaks you’re up for into consideration. (This is one big reason I like tax software for do-it-yourselfers. It prompts you to remember all the things you’re likely to forget).

Make an IRA contribution. You have up to the April filing deadline to put $4,000 into an IRA, $4,500 if you’re 50 and older. That’s true even if you got an extension to file your taxes. Be smart and while you’re making this year’s contribution start an automatic investment plan to make monthly contributions for next year. That way you won’t find yourself scrambling at the last minute to come up with $4 grand.

Don’t make stupid mistakes. Year after year, we report the same mistakes: Missing or incorrect social security numbers. 1099s and w-2s that don’t match the numbers reported on your form. Errors in math. Forgetting to sign your return. Double check your paperwork so that the IRS doesn’t have to send it back to you.

And if you use the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, Federal Express or one of the other overnight carriers make sure that you put the proper postage on the envelope and either get a receipt or send it certified mail, return receipt.

Jean Chatzky is an editor-at-large at Money magazine and serves as AOL's official Money Coach. She is the personal finance editor for NBC's "Today Show" and is also a columnist for Life magazine. She is the author of four books, including "Pay It Down! From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day" (Portfolio, 2004). To find out more, visit her Web site, .