If you haven't planned ahead or are new to filing a tax return on your own, you might feel a little overwhelmed come tax season. What form will I need to file? What documents do I need to provide? What deductions can I get? If you have questions, you're not alone. Filing your taxes can be easy. These tax tips can help you prepare for filing and can be referenced in the IRS's Tax Guide, or "Pub 17."
1. Choose Your Tax Form
Depending on your income level, number of dependents, and whether you're self-employed, the tax form you submit will differ. If you're unsure which form to use, the IRS offers a checklist with links to help you determine what's right for you and your family.
2. Gather Your Financial Documents
Have handy any documents that relate to your income and investments. Whether you receive a W-2 from your employer or are filing a 1099 because you're self-employed, you'll need to provide proof of identification and know your social security number, along with the social security numbers of your dependents. Also, gather any documents that relate to income not reported on your W-2 or 1099, like rental income or alimony.
For a full summary of what you'll need, whether you're preparing your own taxes or consulting a professional, refer to H&R Block's "Prep Checklist."
3. Calculate Your Deductions
Deductions lower your taxable income, thereby lowering the amount of tax you owe the government. A tax expert can help you understand which deductions you're eligible for, but you'll need to provide documentation (like a receipt or a letter from a charity) proving your expense. Examples of common deductions include educational costs used to maintain or improve your job skills, moving expenses, charitable donations, or student loan interest. For an overview of possible deductions, consult the IRS.
4. Explore Your Filing Options
You can file on paper, online through IRS Free File, or with a tax prepare. Filing online is free, and according to the IRS, it is the safest, fastest, and easiest way to submit an individual return. If you're going to file with a tax preparation expert, be sure to make an appointment. You can also visit your nearest authorized IRS e-file provider to ensure that you've filed your documents correctly, and to have your return quickly filed electronically. Some tax preparation experts may even review a previous tax return for no charge.