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A Reader’s Guide to Tax Day

Procrastinators take heed: it’s tax day in the U.S. Here’s hoping that you don’t have a line at the post office in your future.

But if you DO still need help figuring out your stimulus tax credit, are confused about why everyone is still talking about why nearly half of American households don’t pay federal income taxes, or want to know what all your hard-earned dollars fund, look no further. We’ve put together a handy reader’s guide.

What if I haven’t filed my taxes?

Take a deep breath. You still have time.

The Christian Science Monitor has put together a package of tax tips: First, the top mistakes to avoid, such as forgetting about the stimulus and the home buyer’s tax credits. There are more tips on how to file an extension and a guide to how the tax code has changed under President Obama.

Our PBS colleagues at Nightly Business Report have also put together a page of tax tips for 2009, including a FAQ and a list of general tax resources.

The stimulus tax credit is proving to be something of a thorn in the IRS’s side this year. Millions of tax returns already filed contain errors, according to the IRS, because of confusion over how to claim the credit — which amounts to $400 for individuals and $800 for married couples. Much of the confusion stems from having to fill out a new form — Schedule M — to claim the credit. Tax examiners are working overtime to correct those returns — so don’t worry if you’ve already filed and forgot to file it — but it’s already the biggest source of errors in this year’s returns.

Who pays what taxes?

You’ve probably heard the viral statistic of the past week: 47 percent of American households don’t pay federal income taxes. David Leonhardt takes a closer look and suggests it’s a selective, and somewhat misleading, reading of the facts. More here and here. Jumping on the 47 percent figure, Robert Samuelson suggests you may look back on today with fond memories because taxes are likely guaranteed to rise in the decades to come. (Jon Stewart and the Daily Show also skewer the media’s obsession with the factoid.)

For a state-by-state breakdown of tax rates, the Tax Foundation has a handy map and the Christian Science Monitor explores whether people are moving out of states with high tax rates.

If your state’s ranking leaves you feeling a little down, you can buck yourself up and thank your lucky stars you don’t live in Slovenia with this global comparison of income taxation, via the Economist.

Plus, the White House has released the tax returns of President Obama and Vice President Biden here. The president and the first lady reported an adjusted gross income of $ 5,505,409 — according to the White House, the vast majority of the family’s 2009 income is the proceeds from the sale of the president’s books.

Finally, USA Today reveals that the IRS “has spent less time auditing returns of the nation’s largest companies” in the past decade. And Third Way, a progressive think tank, reports that middle class families are better off this tax day than in the past.

How are your taxes spent?

Here, we turn to the folks over at KQED, who have compiled these charts.

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Need a tax day distraction?

You are in luck. Food chains around the country are handing out tax day freebies. You’ve earned it.

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