It's April -- have you filed your tax return yet?

If you still haven't gotten around to filing your tax return, you're not alone. According to the most recent data from the IRS, the agency has received only about 85.7 million returns. That's less than 60 percent of the 150 million individual returns it's expecting this tax season, which runs for only a few more weeks.

One reason to get your return filed as soon as possible is to get a refund as soon as possible. About 78 percent of individuals who have filed so far this year have gotten money back. Those checks are averaging about $2,925, which is about 1 percent higher than this time last year.

The other good news is this year you have two extra days to file because the deadline is April 17, not the usual April 15.

Many taxpayers who haven't yet filed don't intend to do so by the deadline. Instead, they'll file Form 4868: Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, which allows for an automatic six-month extension.

But even if you file for an extension, April 17 is still "pay day." That's because you must pay the taxes you owe, despite delaying your return.

And if you use a check to pay your tax bill, you should know that paper checks can be the target of fraudulent alterations. For this reason, the IRS suggests making the check payable to the "United States Treasury," not the "IRS." You should also use a pen with pigmented ink that can't be washed or bleached, making it impossible to alter the check.

A more secure way to pay your taxes is have the money electronically debited from your bank account. You can choose this option when you file your return (or an extension) using tax-prep software. When paying your taxes by direct account debit, you can specify an account and a payment date up to the tax deadline. All you need is the name of your bank, the account number and the routing number.

To avoid any payment delays, make sure your financial institution allows Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) and that you're using the correct routing number.

Finally, before you file, make sure to check for these simple things.

  • Correct Social Security numbers for all individuals -- joint filers and dependents -- who are listed on your tax return.
  • Sign and date your returns. Both spouses must sign a joint return, even if only one had income to report.
  • If you have investment income, check with the brokerage firm to see if it issued corrected 1099s for dividends, interest or proceeds from transactions.
  • If you're claiming a deduction for a contribution to an IRA or SEP IRA, make the contribution before the April 17 tax deadline. You can make the contribution to a Self Employed 401(k) plan on or before the date you file your tax return.  

If you owe taxes and are filling a paper return by mail, don't attach your payment to your tax return. Instead, enclose the payment (a check made payable to "United States Treasury") with a Form 1040-V Payment Voucher, and send it to the appropriate address.

  • Ray Martin

    View all articles by Ray Martin on CBS MoneyWatch»
    Ray Martin has been a practicing financial advisor since 1986, providing financial guidance and advice to individuals. He has appeared regularly as a contributor on the CBS Early Show, CBS NewsPath, as a columnist on CBS Moneywatch.com and on NBC-TV's morning newscast TODAY. He has also appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and is the author of two books.