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By Jason Stipp | 04-03-2010 06:00 AM

Avoid Surprises at Tax Time

Morningstar's Christine Benz offers tips for taking control of your taxes and learning from your tax return.

Jason Stipp: I'm Jason Stipp from Morningstar. Whether you've completed your 2009 taxes or you're still slogging through them, you may have run into some surprises and you might be wondering how to address them or avoid them in the future. Here to offer some tips is Morningstar's director of personal finance, Christine Benz. Christine, thanks for joining me.

Christine Benz: Jason, nice to be here.

Stipp: So I think probably the most unpleasant surprise that you run into when you're doing your taxes is that you find out that you owe a lot of money.

Benz: Right.

Stipp: If this has been my problem this year, what can I do to make sure that doesn't happen to me again in the future?

Benz: Well, the key thing is to make sure that you're taking advantage of all the deductions and credits that are available to you, and it's a changeable mix of items. So make sure that you're up to date on what's deductible and what you can take as a credit.

Right now, for example, there are lot of energy efficiency credits that you can take advantage of if you've made energy efficient upgrades to your home, for example. That's kind of a new category and that is actually a credit, so it's deductible directly from the tax burden that you owe.

So take a look and see whether there are any new items that you may be able to write off or take a credit for that you couldn't in the past.

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