Here are six last-minute things to keep in mind as the due date for most indi­vid­u­als’ 2012 fed­er­al income tax returns approaches.

File on time, pay any tax­es due

The due date for 2012 fed­er­al income tax returns is April 15, 2013. If you’re not going to be able to file your fed­er­al income tax return by the due date, file for an exten­sion using IRS Form 4868, Appli­ca­tion for Auto­mat­ic Exten­sion of Time to File U.S. Indi­vid­ual Income Tax Return. Fil­ing this exten­sion gives you an addi­tion­al six months–to Octo­ber 15, 2013–to file your return. It’s impor­tant to under­stand, though, that the exten­sion does not give you extra time to pay any tax­es due. If you do not pay any tax­es you owe by April 15, 2013, you’ll owe inter­est on the tax due, and you may owe penal­ties as well. Spe­cial rules apply if you’re liv­ing out­side the coun­try or serv­ing in the mil­i­tary out­side the coun­try on April 15, 2013.

Were you affect­ed by delayed IRS forms?

Spe­cial rules may apply if you file an exten­sion for a 2012 fed­er­al income tax return that includes one of the forms that weren’t avail­able until Feb­ru­ary or March (because of the enact­ment of the Amer­i­can Tax­pay­er Relief Act). Delayed 2012 forms include Form 3800, Gen­er­al Busi­ness Cred­it; Form 4562, Depre­ci­a­tion and Amor­ti­za­tion; and Form 8863, Edu­ca­tion Cred­its (Amer­i­can Oppor­tu­ni­ty and Life­time Learn­ing Credits).

If you file for an exten­sion, esti­mate your expect­ed tax lia­bil­i­ty in good faith, and pay the esti­mat­ed amount of tax that you cal­cu­late by the orig­i­nal due date of the return, the IRS has announced that it will pro­vide relief from the late-pay­ment penal­ty (the fail­ure-to-pay penal­ty) in cas­es where addi­tion­al tax is owed and paid by the extend­ed due date of the return. In oth­er words, when you do file your return, if addi­tion­al tax is due the IRS will waive the late-pay­ment penal­ty (pro­vid­ed you pay the addi­tion­al tax by the extend­ed dead­line). How­ev­er, inter­est will still apply to any tax pay­ment made after the orig­i­nal dead­line. For more infor­ma­tion, see IRS Notice 2013–24.

Remem­ber 2010 Roth IRA conversions

Gen­er­al­ly, when you con­vert funds in a tra­di­tion­al IRA or a retire­ment plan to a Roth, you pay tax in the year that the con­ver­sion takes place. If you con­vert­ed amounts to a Roth IRA or a des­ig­nat­ed Roth account in 2010, how­ev­er, a spe­cial rule applied–individuals who did a Roth con­ver­sion in 2010 were required to include half the tax­able amount in their income for 2011, and half in their income for 2012, unless they elect­ed to include the entire amount in their 2010 income. If you did con­vert to a Roth in 2010 and did not elect to pay tax­es on the amount on your 2010 return, remem­ber to include any required tax­able amount from the con­ver­sion on your 2012 return. If you received a Roth dis­tri­b­u­tion in 2010 or 2011, the amount you should report on your 2012 tax return may be affect­ed, so check with a tax professional.

Recon­sid­er 2012 Roth IRA conversions

If you con­vert­ed a tra­di­tion­al IRA to a Roth IRA in 2012, it’s not too late to undo the con­ver­sion. This is referred to as a rechar­ac­ter­i­za­tion, and you’re treat­ed for tax pur­pos­es as though the con­ver­sion nev­er happened–you wind up with a tra­di­tion­al IRA again and no tax bill for the con­ver­sion. You gen­er­al­ly have until the due date of your fed­er­al income tax return, includ­ing exten­sions, to rechar­ac­ter­ize your 2012 Roth con­ver­sion (i.e., an exten­sion of time to file your return also extends your time to rechar­ac­ter­ize; and if you file your 2012 return on time, spe­cial rules still allow you to rechar­ac­ter­ize up until Octo­ber 15, 2013). If you do rechar­ac­ter­ize your 2012 con­ver­sion in 2013, you’re allowed to con­vert those dol­lars (and any earn­ings) back to a Roth IRA (“recon­vert”) after wait­ing 30 days, start­ing with the day you trans­ferred the Roth dol­lars back to a tra­di­tion­al IRA. If you recon­vert in 2013, then all tax­es due as a result of the recon­ver­sion will be includ­ed in your 2013 fed­er­al income tax return.

Review casu­al­ty loss deduc­tion rules

If you were one of the many indi­vid­u­als who suf­fered prop­er­ty dam­age or loss as a result of late-2012 storms (e.g., Octo­ber’s Hur­ri­cane Sandy), you may be enti­tled to a deduc­tion for storm-relat­ed loss­es that weren’t cov­ered by insur­ance. Review IRS Pub­li­ca­tion 547, Casu­al­ties, Dis­as­ters, and Thefts for details of the casu­al­ty loss rules.

Under­stand gift tax return require­ments (if you made gifts in 2012)

If you made gifts in 2012, you may need to file a Form 709 gift tax return by April 15, 2013.

A gift tax return must be filed for 2012 if you made gifts dur­ing 2012 oth­er than:

  • Gifts to your U.S. cit­i­zen spouse
  • Out­right gifts to qual­i­fied charities
  • Present inter­est gifts total­ing $13,000 or less to any individual
  • Amounts paid on behalf of any indi­vid­ual as tuition to an edu­ca­tion­al orga­ni­za­tion or for med­ical care to a med­ical care provider
  • You must file a gift tax return if you wish to split gifts with your spouse. You may also wish to file a gift tax return if you make gifts of hard-to-val­ue assets. If you dis­close the trans­ac­tion on the gift tax return, the IRS gen­er­al­ly has only three years to chal­lenge the value.

If you file a Form 4868 to auto­mat­i­cal­ly extend your due date for fil­ing your 2012 income tax return, a six-month exten­sion of time to file the Form 709 is also grant­ed. If you do not file an exten­sion request for your income tax return, you can file a Form 8892 to auto­mat­i­cal­ly extend the due date for the gift tax return to Octo­ber 15, 2013. An exten­sion of time to file the gift tax return does not extend the time to pay the gift tax; you must esti­mate and pay the gift tax due by April 15, 2013. But even if you made tax­able gifts and have to file a gift tax return, a $5,120,000 (in 2012) applic­a­ble exclu­sion amount is avail­able to pro­tect gifts from gift tax.