Tax Day Tips: iPhone Apps and Your ‘Buffett Number’

BY Christina Bellantoni and elizabeth shell  April 16, 2012 at 5:47 PM EST

Money and Taxes
Photo by Jon Boyes/Getty Images.

Tuesday is Tax Day, the deadline for sending your financial self-portrait to the Internal Revenue Service to determine if a refund is headed your way or if you owe Uncle Sam money. For those still scrambling to get 1099s and schedule Cs in order before 11:59 Tuesday night, we’ve rounded up some tips, calculators and a look at the president’s own 1040 to help get you motivated.

The IRS, of course, has a slew of tax tips including how to file an extension if you need extra time, 10 last-minute tips and “Everything You Need to Know About Making Federal Tax Payments.”

Making Sense

There’s also an IRS YouTube channel and a smartphone app “to help you navigate taxes and the IRS,” according to the IRS website.

Reuters has a look at new tax laws and tips for filing 2011′s return. The Wall Street Journal offers a video on how to avoid an audit and what to do if you realize there’s a big “ooops” in your return — after you’ve filed.

For those in Tax Day misery and looking for company, the Wall Street Journal also has “10 Things I Hate About Tax Day.” Writes Brett Arends:

The U.S. tax code is insane and out of control. It’s tripled in a decade. It now runs to 3.8 million words. To put that in context, William Shakespeare only needed 900,000 words to say everything he had to say. Hamlet. Othello. The history plays. The sonnets. The whole shebang. But the IRS needs four times as many words? Really?

And if you’re interested in what tax policy changes could mean for average Americans, don’t forget our review of the non-partisan Tax Policy Center’s Tax Calculator (updated since we first profiled it to now include “how the Obama-GOP compromise tax bill will affect your taxes in 2010 and 2011.”)

Beyond returns, refunds and owing, Tax Day always carries political consequences as well, with anti-government forces rallying in Washington and Democrats saying they want to pass the so-called “Buffett Rule” to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

To go along with the tax messaging this year, just about everyone has online tools to prove their political points.

President Obama’s White House offers a breakdown on its website claiming it fulfills a promise during his 2011 State of the Union address to show taxpayers how their money is spent. The page calculates the percentage of funds going to defense spending, health care, agriculture, natural disasters and more. The bottom of the page gets political, as taxpayers are offered more information with a note leading to the Buffett Rule description: “You paid your fair share. Now find out how many millionaires paid a lower tax rate than you.”

An email promoting the White House calculator with the subject line “What’s your Buffett number?” is more explicit. It directs taxpayers to enter “a few pieces of information” to “see how many millionaires pay a lower effective tax rate than you.”

The president’s re-election team goes right to the campaign fight between Obama and Mitt Romney. Obama’s Deputy Campaign Manager Stephanie Cutter emailed supporters Monday reminding them that Romney is “strongly against” the Buffett Rule. “Maybe that’s because it would close tax loopholes that he’s personally benefiting from, and require him and other millionaires to play by the same set of rules as middle-class families,” she said.

Cutter points supporters to the campaign’s calculator, which does the math for how Buffett Rule tax rates compare to Romney’s tax rate “and how the Buffett Rule would change things.”

The president also released his tax returns on Friday as his campaign needled Romney for not doing so. Team Romney, on the other hand, lists several of Romney’s proposed tax policy changes on the campaign’s website. Besides a promise to eliminate the “death tax” and cut the corporate rate to 25 percent, the site goes after the president. “President Obama’s proclivity for fostering uncertainty about the long-term shape of the tax code is particularly troublesome,” it reads.

The anti-poverty group known as the One Campaign also has its own tax calculator to showcase how little of the nation’s tax dollars go to foreign aid.

This entry is cross-posted on the Making Sen$e page, where correspondent Paul Solman answers your economic and business questions