April 15 is right around the corner, have you started your taxes?

Even though the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) did not begin accepting tax returns until January 31 - a delay due to last year's 16-day government shutdown - U.S. taxpayers need to be aware that there will be no automatic extension to file their 2013 tax returns. Indeed, similar to past years, tax returns must be filed or postmarked by April 15 - a date that can sneak up for even the most prepared tax filers.

However, given that the U.S. has one of the most complex tax systems in the world, it is often a good idea to review some of the recent changes to the tax code before filing returns.

Some important tax changes this year

Likely one of the most significant changes to 2013 tax obligations relates to high-income taxpayers. Specifically, legislation passed in 2013 added a top tax rate of 39.6 percent for individuals making more than $400,000 a year ($450,000 for married couples filing jointly). Moreover, these same taxpayers may experience an increase in their capital gains tax from 15 percent to 20 percent, not to mention a loss of certain deductions.

Another important amendment this year is that the threshold for deducting medical and dental expenses rose to 10 percent of adjusted gross income - and increase from a mere 7.5 percent. However, for those older than 65, the old rate will continue until 2017.

Also new for 2013 tax returns is a simplified option for deducting home office expenses. For instance, taxpayers can take a standard deduction of $5 per square foot on home office space, up to 300 square feet - although they can also still track actual expenses if they wish.

While these are just a few of the changes to the U.S. tax code for 2013, it is important to make sure to review all possible deductions and tax law changes so that an individual's return is not only filed timely but correctly. After all, any delay that results in filing returns after April 15 may result in negative tax consequences.

Unfiled tax returns

While it is possible for those unable to get their tax returns in on time to ask for a six-month extension, there are several instances in which an individual's failure to file a tax return has little to do with merely needing more time to calculate his or her tax obligations. For example, it is not uncommon for some to become paralyzed in fear when they discover that they may owe money to the government but do not have the funds on hand to make the payment.

Additionally, unfiled tax returns can frequently occur when tragedy strikes, such as when a health issue or a loss in the family is so significant that filing taxes is simply not possible, let alone feasible. The important thing to remember is that a person should not be ashamed or humiliated if he or she is unable to file timely tax returns due to circumstances outside of his or her control.

Accordingly, if you currently need assistance with the filing of back tax returns, it is often best to seek the counsel of an experienced tax attorney. A skilled attorney can help deal with the IRS and assist in ensuring you become fully compliant with the tax laws.