With the deadline to file your 2011 taxes approaching, there are some changes to the tax laws, as well as some tips and reminders to help you become better informed. The following list is not comprehensive, but can be used as a simple guide when filing your taxes. For more information, visit the Internal Revenue Service's website at www.irs.gov.

What's new in 2012

Due date of return — The deadline to file taxes this year is April 17, instead of April 15. This year, April 15 falls on a Sunday and April 16 is the Emancipation Holiday in the District of Columbia.

First-time homebuyer credit — To claim the first-time homebuyer credit for 2011, you (or your spouse if married) must have been a member of the uniformed services or Foreign Service or an employee of the intelligence community on qualified official extended duty outside the United States for at least 90 days during the period beginning after Dec. 31, 2008, and ending before May 1, 2010.

Self-employed health insurance deduction — This deduction is no longer allowed on Schedule SE. However, you can still take it on Form 1040, line 29.

Standard mileage rates — The 2011 rate for business use of your vehicle has increased to 51 cents a mile (55 cents a mile after June 30, 2011). The 2011 rate for use of your vehicle to get medical care or to move is increased to 19 cents a mile (23 cents a mile after June 30, 2011). In addition, beginning in 2011, you may use the business standard mileage rate for a vehicle used for hire, such as a taxicab.

Mailing your Return — If you are filing a paper return, you may be mailing it to a different address this year because the IRS has changed the filing location for several areas. If you are not enclosing a check or money order, mail your return to Department of Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, Austin, TX 73301-0015. If you are enclosing a check or money order, mail your return to Internal Revenue Service, P.O. Box 1214, Charlotte, NC 28201-1214.

Common errors when preparing your tax return

Did you consider filing your tax return electronically? By electronically filing your tax return, many common errors may be avoided or corrected by the computer software. Depending on your income, you may even qualify to e-file for free by using IRS Free File. More information is available on the website.

Did you check only one filing status?

Did you enter income, deductions, and credits on the correct lines and are the totals correct?

If you are due a refund and requested direct deposit, did you check your financial institution routing and account numbers?

Did you enter the names and social security numbers for yourself, your spouse, your dependents, and qualifying children for earned income credit or child tax credit, exactly as they appear on the social security cards? If there have been any name changes be sure to contact the Social Security Administration at www.ssa.gov or call at 800-772-1213.

How to chose a tax preparer

  • Be wary of tax return preparers who claim they can obtain larger refunds than others.
  • Paid tax return preparers must have a preparer tax identification number (PTIN) to prepare all or substantially all of a tax return.
  • Use a reputable tax professional who furnishes his PTIN, signs the tax return, and provides a copy of the return to you (as required).
  • Consider whether the individual or firm will be around months or years after the return has been filed, to answer questions about the preparation of the tax return.
  • Check the person's credentials. Only attorneys, CPAs and enrolled agents can represent taxpayers before the IRS in all matters, including audits, collection and appeals. Other tax return preparers may only represent taxpayers for audits of returns they actually prepared.
  • Find out if the tax return preparer is affiliated with a professional organization that provides its members with continuing education and other resources and holds them to a code of ethics.
  • Avoid tax return preparers who base their fees on a percentage of the refund.

Source: Internal Revenue Service