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It's tax time again -- what's different this year?

Saturday - 3/3/2012, 12:01pm  ET

Nathan Hager, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - By now you should have received your W2s, 1099s, and any other forms you'll need to fill out your 2011 federal income tax returns.

So have you gotten your refund yet?

Perhaps not. This year's Tax Day falls on April 17, because the usual filing deadline, April 15, is a Sunday, and the day after that is Emancipation Day, an official holiday in D.C. And since D.C. is the Federal City, it's a tax holiday for the rest of the country.

But keep in mind, chances are you're due for a refund from Uncle Sam, so why put it off?

"About three in four taxpayers get refunds every year," says Kimberly Palmer, author of the Alpha Consumer blog at U.S. News & World Report.

"On average it's about $3,000, so that should give some good motivation to file early, because the earlier you file, the quicker you get that refund," says Palmer.

The IRS has made a concerted effort to encourage taxpayers to file electronically. You may have noticed that, since it's getting more difficult to find paper forms and IRS publications in places like the public library or the post office.

The bigger inducement, though, may be that e-filers receive their refunds faster, in about ten days, on average.

But before you fire up that e-filing software, you may want to be aware of the changes to the tax rules that come with a new year.

"Every year, the numbers change. So whether you're looking at the tax brackets, exemption amounts, the minimum amount for the Alternative Minimum Tax, all of those numbers change every year," Palmer says.

On the Alternative Minimum Tax, for example, single filers who earned more than $48,450, or married couples filing jointly with a combined income over $74,450, may be subject to the AMT. Those numbers are higher than last year.

You could lower your tax burden, however, if you're able to claim dependents on your 1040, and it's not just parents of young children who may be eligible to do so.

"Because of the lingering effects of the recession and economy, a lot of people are having changes in their personal life that actually affect their tax status as well," Palmer says.

Children who've graduated from college and have moved back home may be claimed as dependents, or if you care for elderly relatives, they, too, may be a tax break.

Palmer also notes many parents of newborns forget to claim their babies on their taxes, especially if they were born toward the end of the year. Even if your child was born on December 31st, he or she is worth money through the entire tax year.

Palmer has a list of 10 things to know about your 2011 taxes.

Happy filing, and don't spend your refund in one place.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)