By SARAH SKIDMORE SELL
AP Personal Finance Writer
If you woke up in a panic realizing that today is April 15, relax. You've got until Tuesday to file and pay your taxes without facing a penalty.
April 15 falls on Sunday this year and Monday is Emancipation Day, a holiday in Washington D.C. That gives taxpayers nationwide until April 17 to get the job done.
Procrastinators can take some solace in knowing that as of Friday 40 million Americans hadn't filed their taxes, according to the IRS. Still, this is no time to dawdle; here are some tips for you last-minute filers:
HOW TO FILE
The IRS says that electronic filing is the best way to avoid common mistakes. That's because the software does the calculations, flags common errors and prompts taxpayers to provide missing information.
It's quicker than dropping something in the mail. Plus, electronic filers typically get their refund faster if due one.
You can use any electronic filing method you choose, but it's worth noting that the IRS says about 70 percent of taxpayers are eligible to file their tax return at no charge by using IRS Free File software. It can be accessed at the IRS website at IRS.gov.
TAKE YOUR TIME
Yes, it's crunch time but try not to rush.
Lisa Greene-Lewis, CPA at TurboTax, said the most important tip for entering information is to take your time. One of the most common mistakes taxpayers make when rushing is gathering incorrect Social Security numbers for their children and spouses. Some even misspell their own names.
Instead, carefully gather and enter your Social Security number, income information and banking information, if needed. It will take more time in the long-run to correct your mistakes and will delay any refunds.
Telephone calls to the IRS may have long wait times. Ditto if you try to go to somewhere in person, such as a tax assistance center.
Instead, the IRS website should be your first stop for finding answers to most basic tax questions. Popular tax software providers have their own solutions too. TurboTax now offers live on-demand video to communicate with a credentialed CPA or enrolled agent who can answer your questions.
ASK FOR MORE TIME
If you really can't get your tax return done, seek an extension. But getting an extension only gives you more time to file your return -- you still have to pay what you owe now.
The IRS allows you to request an automatic six-month extension to file your return when you pay online.
If you owe money and cannot pay immediately, you can ask the IRS for installment agreements when you file your taxes. That will allow you to pay your tax debt over six years. You can also ask about other repayment methods or forgiveness by contacting the IRS.
DO BETTER NEXT TIME
There are a number of reasons to try to file your taxes sooner rather than later.
If you are due a refund, the sooner you file, the sooner you'll get it. And filing earlier in the season gives you time to more carefully prepare your returns and avoid errors.
But most importantly, filing early helps cut down on the risk for identity theft by essentially beating the criminals to the punch. Once your return is filed with the IRS, the information -- most notably your Social Security number -- is locked and cannot be used by anyone who might want to fraudulently claim a tax refund. And identity theft remains a common problem.