Prepare to File Your Income Taxes

by Lisa Morris

The days when you had to go to the library or post office to retrieve tax forms are long gone. With a few clicks on your home computer, you can download and print everything you need to prepare and file your taxes. Even better, you can instantly file your taxes online. Either way, limit the stress of this annual chore by organizing your documents and making a plan.

Get organized

Tax document organization doesn’t just last from January to April 15 — it’s a year-round process. File away tax-related documents throughout the year so you can locate them easily when it’s time to do your taxes. Group your documents in folders according to their tax implications to speed up the tax filing process. The most common documents for the average American taxpayer are:

  • Income statements. W-2s, 1099s, unemployment income, alimony, miscellaneous income, and IRA and pension distributions.
  • Adjustments to income. IRA contributions, educator expenses, medical savings account contributions, and student loan interest.
  • Itemized deductions and credits. Home mortgage interest, childcare costs, medical expenses, education costs, investment interest expenses, home-based business expenses and charitable donations

Alone or pro?

Decide if you’re going to file your own taxes or hire a professional. If you go it alone, the easiest way is to use an online service that guides you through the process step by step. Service prices vary, depending on your tax situation. Service usually covers very simple returns (for example, no stock transactions, self-employment income or rental income); for more complicated returns, a second level usually includes audit support; premium versions are usually geared toward self-employment or rental property and usually includes live tax advice.

If you decide to call in the pros, get referrals from your friends and relatives. Tax preparers’ fees vary greatly, so get a few quotes before deciding who to hire.

Need help?

If you’e preparing your own taxes, there’s plenty of free assistance available. The Internal Revenue Service has a plethora of information, including all the tax forms, instructions and frequently asked questions. IRS assistance is also available 24/7 at 800-829-4477. You can also receiving face-to-face assistance at your local IRS office.

Don’t procrastinate

Whether you prepare your own tax returns hire a pro, don’t wait until the last minute. Leave enough time to do research or locate information or documents you’ll need to file your return. If you’re using a tax preparer, you may need to wait for an open appointment or meet them a second time if you forget any documents or information. If you owe the IRS and you’re in a financial bind, the earlier you know the more time you’ll have to save.

You can file for an extension, but an extension only gives you extra time to file, not extra time to pay. If you’re getting a refund and file for an extension, you will not incur a penalty. If you owe the IRS, you can get an extension to file, but the tax is still due by April 15. You may qualify for a payment plan, but fees and interest will be added.

If you procrastinate and find you’re short on time, your best option is to e-file. Just put on your pajamas, turn on your computer and get it done in the comfort of your own home.

Freelance writer Lisa Morris has been preparing income tax returns professionally and for family and friends since 1991.

 

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  1. I pay to have my taxes done.

  2. I do it myself. It ain't called the 1040EZ for nothin'!

  3. I have a family member who is a tax preparer that does ours.

  4. Turbotax

  5. My husband always does our taxes

  6. turbo tax...i've paid CPA's to do our taxes before, and can do the same thing, substantially cheaper myself- & get my results within the same DAY...

  7. I have a CPA do my taxes, I feel more secure that I'm doing it correctly that way and as a self-employed person it can get complicated.

  8. I use TurboTax to do my taxes!

  9. H and R block all the way

  10. I always file my taxes myself.

  11. I have always filed my taxes myself.

  12. I have always prepared my own tax forms and will again this year.

  13. My mom does my taxes. She great at saving me money and she's free.

  14. I do my own on hrblock.com have been for years.

  15. I get everything together and go to the local library and let AARP do it for me--free!

  16. We are doing are own.

  17. Yes I'm having an accountant do my taxes.

  18. Yes I'm having an accountant do my taxes.

  19. turbo tax...i've paid CPA's to do our taxes before, and can do the same thing, substantially cheaper myself- & get my results within the same DAY...

  20. I have a family member who is a tax preparer that does ours.

  21. I have a CPA do my taxes, I feel more secure that I'm doing it correctly that way and as a self-employed person it can get complicated.

  22. I use TurboTax to do my taxes!

  23. I have always prepared my own tax forms and will again this year.

  24. My husband always does our taxes

  25. I do my own on hrblock.com have been for years.

  26. Turbotax

  27. We are doing are own.

  28. I have always filed my taxes myself.

  29. H and R block all the way

  30. I get everything together and go to the local library and let AARP do it for me--free!

  31. I always file my taxes myself.

  32. I pay to have my taxes done.

  33. My mom does my taxes. She great at saving me money and she's free.

  34. I do it myself. It ain't called the 1040EZ for nothin'!

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