How to get your tax documents in order prior to tax time
The pros and cons of hiring a professional versus doing your taxes yourself
The paperwork, process and more about successfully conquering tax time
Ready or not, Tax Day will soon be upon us. April 18 to be exact. Follow these four steps to simplify the process of filing your taxes.
1. Get your documents in order
You might have elected to receive your tax documents electronically, or you could be working with old-school paperwork. Either way, the first step is to create some sort of system to collect and organize all your tax documents. The system doesn’t need to be complicated – it can simply be a digital or physical file where you collect everything you’ll need when filing your taxes.
For federal taxes, check out this tax form checklist created by IRS.com, which lists out every document and piece of information you will likely need to file. In addition to documents that represent income like a W-2, this checklist can also help you prepare for any income adjustments or credits you might be eligible for. If you plan to file for tax deductions for any expenses, keep in mind that you will also need to have receipts for those expenses ready when you file your taxes.
2. Choose a tax professional or a do-it-yourself option
If you plan to get outside help on your taxes, make an appointment with a tax preparer sooner rather than later to ensure you can get your taxes filed before the deadline. And before you meet with them, be sure to have a conversation about your level of involvement. Some people choose to simply hand off all their documents and let the professional do the rest, while others prefer to be more hands on throughout the process.
If you would like to file yourself, you might want to get your hands on some tax preparation software, like TurboTax, TaxSlayer, or H&R Block’s tax preparation software, that will allow you to be hands-on during the process but still provide a little guidance. These programs are designed to walk you through the process step-by-step by asking simple questions and prompting you to upload any required documents.
3. Make note of any changes
Every year can bring changes to tax regulations. Take a few minutes to make yourself aware of any changes that may affect you and your refund (or bill) for this tax year. Be sure to note any new filing requirements, which can be found on the IRS website.
Prior to filing, it’s also a good idea to reflect back on the previous year and make a list of any significant life events that might affect how you file. Any big milestones like buying a house, getting married, adding or losing dependents, or a new job should be noted. Depending on what personal changes occurred during the last year, do some quick research to educate yourself on the guidelines, possible deductions, or credits that you might be eligible for.
4. Decide how you will file
Once you’re ready to file your taxes, you have the choice to do so electronically, or mail in paper forms. Last year, nearly 78% of U.S. residents filed their taxes electronically.
If you prefer a paper option, know that you’ll need to download the forms from the IRS website. Thanks to the popularity of electronic filing, the U.S. no longer mails paper tax forms automatically.
Prepare and conquer the season
It’s understandable to get a little stressed out during tax season. The paperwork, process and precision required can be overwhelming. But with a little bit of preparation and the right tools for the job, you can stress a little less about filing your tax return and stride through the season.