When you’re a single mom, it can be tough to find a distraction-free time to do your taxes. And with all of the forms, and papers, and numbers, it’s very easy to make a mistake on your tax return – it happens all the time. People forget to sign their returns, they type in numbers incorrectly, they mix up the kids’ Social Security numbers, or they overlook some income or deductions completely.

Sometimes, you’ll catch the mistake before the IRS does, and correct it on your own. Other times, the IRS finds the error. When they do, they’ll contact you – almost always by regular U.S. mail – and give you a chance to respond.

Either way, the most important thing to do is respond right away. As long as you respond to their request quickly – even if you disagree with them – the situation can be resolved without any drama.

Tax professionals make mistakes on their clients’ tax returns a lot more often than you’d think.

When the IRS Catches the Mistake

Most mistakes the IRS catches can be fixed quickly and easily. Most of the time, they’re mismatches between an official document (like a W-2) they got and the information you’ve reported on your tax return.

When they catch some kind of reporting error, you’ll get a straightforward notice from the agency, spelling out where you went wrong, and how much more you owe…or how much more you’ll be getting back. This usually happens before the IRS has fully processed your tax return – basically, they’re giving you a chance to fix it before they finalize their records.

When the IRS thinks you’ve made a mistake, they’ll send you a standard notice. All IRS notices and letters have specific numbers – you can find the number for your notice at the top right corner of the page. You’ll also see contact information right there, in case you have any questions. The notice will tell you three basic things:

  1. What the IRS is changing or needs more information about on your tax return
  2. Why they’re making the change or asking for more information
  3. Where and by when to send your reply (if they need a reply – they don’t always)

If you agree with their correction, simply follow the instructions in the notice. When it calls for a payment, make that payment right away so you don’t end up paying more in interest and penalties.

If you disagree with their change, let them know immediately. Gather up your supporting documentation, make copies – NEVER send original documents to the IRS – and send it to them by mail or fax (that contact information should be included in your notice). Make sure you refer to the notice you received by its number, and include a copy of that notice in your response. Keep copies of everything you send them, or they send you.

When You Realize There’s a Mistake

Mistakes on tax returns happen all the time. That includes things like getting a corrected statement from an income source (like a bank, broker, or employer) after you’ve already filed. Or maybe you found a pile of receipts that never got deducted. Whatever happened, you figured it out after you filed your tax return.

Luckily, this is very easy to fix. And the right fix depends mainly on timing.

If you realize your tax return is wrong before the filing due date, all you have to do is file a new tax return with the correct information. The IRS counts the last return you’ve filed as the right one.

If you notice the error after the filing due date, you can file an amended return on IRS Form 1040X to correct the error. The sooner you fix the mistake, the better, especially if you end up owing some money: The IRS charges interest (and possibly penalties) from the original due date of the tax return on any extra money that you owe.

Whatever the mistake is, and whoever catches it, you can easily correct your tax return with very little effort. As long as you act fast, you’ll minimize any potential interest and penalties.

And if you have any questions, please ask – I’ll respond as soon as possible.