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What you should know about this tax season

It's mid-January again and that means it's time for the tax-paying public to get in touch with its favorite uncle.

That, of course, would be Uncle Sam and this tax season there is a slight change to the protocol for processing individual income tax returns, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

North Dakota State Tax Commissioner Cory Fong said some changes this year, namely the fallout from the so-called "fiscal cliff," have pushed back the date the IRS will begin to process returns to Jan. 30, a week later than usual.

"With the date the IRS will begin processing this year, we want to stress that people shouldn't get too excited about the change," Fong said. "Processing of both electronic and paper returns will begin Jan. 30. That means there is no advantage to sending in paper returns before the 30th."

Fong added that there also is no advantage to sending in a separate state tax return as it won't be processed until the end of the month and that e-filing remains the optimum method for sending tax information in.

"The best option for taxpayers remains with e-file," Fong said. "It's the fastest method. This year, with the delay and the potential back-log at the federal level, taxpayers using e-file will experience faster results."

The number of electronic filers in North Dakota continues to increase. Fong said that out of about 410,000 returns filed in the state in 2012, 80 percent were of the e-file variety, a number that was 3 percent higher than the previous year.

"There's no question that e-file is the most efficient way to file your taxes," Fong said. "By the same token, we know that a certain amount of the population will want to file paper returns. The paper option will always be available, but we also want to stress that filing electronically is safe, secure and much easier for the IRS to handle."

The electronic trend is more than catching on. Since 2001, Fong said the state has trimmed the number of tax booklets it has sent out by about 370,000.

But the tax-paying population is on the rise in the Oil Patch. Liberty Tax Service in north Dickinson is starting to get busy with the opening filing date coming up.

"So far, we're quite a bit busier than last year," said LTS manager Eric Carr. "People have been getting their W2s in earlier. Part of that, of course, is where we're located with all the activity in the Bakken."

Carr said this year he's emphasizing that people remember to bring in documentation and receipts for services that may be tax deductible. Some popular questions about such items revolve around flame retardant and cold weather gear, and the use of a personal vehicle for work-related purposes.

"We also get a lot of confusion about people claiming themselves as head of household and the earned income credit," Carr said. "The IRS is cracking down on some of those things this year and making people prove they're supporting children in the household for at least half the year."

Carr said people in western North Dakota also have a lot of questions about moving expenses and per diem allowances. Fong said taxpayers with questions or concerns should visit the North Dakota Tax Department website at or call 701-328-7088.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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