A lot of single moms get freaked out by the thought of doing their own taxes. All the rules and forms and schedules feel confusing and overwhelming. And the fear of getting it wrong and getting in trouble with the IRS drive a lot of women to professional tax preparers.

But here’s what most people don’t realize:

Professional tax preparers make mistakes on clients’ tax returns much more often than you’d think.

The truth is that it’s very easy to make mistakes on your income tax return, and it happens all the time. Sometimes it’s a missed signature, sometimes it’s a miscalculated tax credit, and still other times it’s a number typed in wrong. But no matter what the mistake is, you can fix it. It’s easier than you think.

There are two basic situations: You catch the mistake or the IRS does.

In the best circumstance, you’ll catch the mistake before the IRS, and correct it on your own. If the IRS finds an error, they’ll contact you – almost always by regular U.S. mail – and give you a chance to respond.

Whichever the case, the most important thing for you to do is act fast. The sooner you resolve the issue, the easier and cheaper it will be. That’s exactly the kind of resolution we single moms need.

What to do when the IRS finds a mistake on your tax return

The most important thing to remember: Do not ignore official communications from the IRS. As long as you respond to their request, even if you disagree with them, your situation can be resolved without any drama.

Almost all of the mistakes that the IRS catches can be fixed very easily. You’ll get a straightforward CP2000 notice from the IRS that spells out exactly where you went wrong and how much more they think you owe…or how much more you’ll be getting back.

CP 2000 Notice

Most of the time it’s based on a document mismatch: For example, the numbers on your W-2 (and they get a copy of that) don’t match the numbers on your tax return, usually because some amount has been typed in wrong.

This usually comes up before the IRS has fully processed your tax return, because their computers kick out mismatches right away. By contacting you directly with the CP2000, they’re giving you a chance to fix the mistake before they finalize their records. The form contains clear instructions on how to respond, whether or not you agree with their correction. Follow the instructions, fill out whatever they ask for, and make a copy for your records before you send it back.

What to do when you catch the mistake

If you catch your own mistake after you’ve filed your tax return, there are simple solutions for that as well.

Here, the fix depends on the 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. Easy and done.

If you notice the error after the filing due date, you can file an amended return using IRS Form 1040X to correct it. (Here are the instructions for Form 1040X.)

Part III of Form 1040X asks you why you’re sending in an amended return and gives you plenty of space to answer. Keep your answer short, sweet, and specific. For example, “I forgot to include a $200 charitable donation on Schedule A,” or  “I got a corrected W-2 from my employer.”

Form 1040X can’t be e-filed. It has to be filed by regular mail.
You’ll find the proper mailing address in the instructions.

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. The sooner you send it, the less you’ll end up paying. If you can’t pay right away, file your 1040X anyway and ask the IRS for extended time to pay with one of their payment plan options.

If your amended return results in a refund, don’t hold your breath. It can take four months (or even longer) for the IRS to process amended tax returns…and when they’re the ones sending a check, they definitely don’t hurry.

What to do when you go to e-file and your tax return is rejected

Typos on your tax return can trigger a rejection when you e-file. If that happens, the program will give you an error code that explains the problem.

A lot of the time, it’s just a Social Security number that’s been typed in wrong. Other common mistakes include incorrect birthdays or names spelled incorrectly – all easy typos when you’re trying to do your taxes and take care of kids at the same time.

In most cases, you can just fix the mistake and submit your tax return again. If it gets kicked back again, you can file your tax return by regular mail. (You can find out the right address to send your tax return to here.)

The most important thing to remember

If there’s a mistake on your tax return, fix it as soon as you can. If you found it yourself, send in the right information quickly – especially if the correction results in you owing money to the IRS.

Here’s the most important thing: If you get a notice from the IRS by mail, DON’T IGNORE IT! Respond by their deadline to keep things from getting out of hand. And if you’re worried that the notice might not be legit, call the main number for the IRS (NOT the number on the notice) or ask me – I’ll take a look and let you know.