Lucky for us, typewriter not required!
Well, as of Jan. 31, all your W-2s, 1099s and other tax paperwork should be in. So there’s no more avoiding it: You need to do your taxes. Sure, you have a couple months to get it done, but if you expect a refund, you’ll want to get on it as soon as you can. (And if you expect to pay, you may need a little time to save!) Either way, you’ll need to get it done before Wednesday, April 15, 2015 at 11:59 p.m. Here’s how.
1. Schedule a time.
Even if you have a professional do your taxes, you’ll need to do at least a little prep work. The average American spends a whopping 23 hours on a 1040 form. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-steber/taxes—diy-or-tax-pro_b_6581168.html)
Take a personal day, call in sick, whatever you need to do to clear a few hours to locate everything you need. Do this as soon as you can.
2. Collect all the information you need.
Use our handy checklist below to pull together all the documents you may need to do your taxes. The filing process will go so much easier if you have everything you need in one place before getting started.
- If you’re collecting your documents digitally, you may have a few to scan. Be sure to collect all the files into a single location for easy access. For example, if you’re using FileThis, create a “2014 Taxes” cabinet for all your documents.
- If you’re working from paper, you may need to print some of the digital documents stored in your FileThis, Dropbox, Evernote, or other cloud service.
3. Track down any details.
Now, start tracking down those missing 1099s, filling in amounts on your donation receipts, adding up mileage, and more. For details on various topics:
- Available credits and deductions (http://www.irs.gov/Credits-&-Deductions
- Value of donated goods (http://satruck.org/donation-value-guide)
- Rates for mileage (http://www.irs.gov/Tax-Professionals/Standard-Mileage-Rates
- Medical expenses (http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikepatton/2014/02/26/7-rules-for-deducting-medical-and-dental-expenses/)
- Overlooked deductions (http://www.kiplinger.com/article/taxes/T054-C000-S001-the-most-overlooked-tax-deductions.html)
- Impacts of Obamacare (http://obamacarefacts.com/file-taxes-obamacare/)
4. Complete the tax forms.
You have three options for completing your taxes: going solo, using free taxpayer assistance, or hiring a pro. Not sure what to do?
- Going solo: In general, if you have one job, no property and no dependents, you can complete the tax forms yourself. And by all means, do it for free online. (http://www.irs.gov/uac/Free-File:-Do-Your-Federal-Taxes-for-Free)
- Getting help: If you need help filing even simpler tax forms, look into the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. (http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Free-Tax-Return-Preparation-for-You-by-Volunteers)
- Going pro: In general, if you own a business, own property, have dependents, itemize deductions—or just plain hate doing your taxes—hire a pro. For help finding a pro, click here. (http://www.businessinsider.com/there-are-only-3-types-of-professionals-who-should-be-helping-you-with-your-taxes-2015-1)
For more details on making the decision about how to get your taxes done, see “Here’s How To Figure Out Whether You Should Do Your Own Taxes.” (http://www.businessinsider.com/should-i-prepare-my-own-taxes-2015-1#ixzz3QorsxzcP)
5. Get organized for next year.
The less organized you are all year, the harder it is to do your taxes. If you collect and organize documents as they come in, consistently track receipts, always document your mileage, etc., filing your 2015 taxes is bound to be easier. You can no doubt find apps to help—for example, FileThis fetches account statements for you and makes it easy to snap receipts. Pinpoint the most painful part of tax time for you and look for a solution.
Checklist: Tax Documents
Use this checklist to get started on tracking down all the documents you need for filing taxes. If you keep them in one location in FileThis or another cloud-based service, much of the information you need will be at your fingertips, year after year.
- Social Security numbers for yourself, spouse and children
- Names as shown on Social Security cards
- Last three years of state and federal tax returns
- W-2, 1099 forms
- Pensions, IRAs, annuities
- Social Security, retirement plan distributions
- Unemployment compensation
- Alimony received
- Jury duty pay
- Tax refunds
- Scholarships, fellowships
- Prizes, awards
- Gambling, lottery winnings
- Interest, dividend income
- Student loans
- Child-care, elder-care, long-term care expenses
- Tax return preparation fees
- Investment expenses
- Education expenses
- Job-hunting expenses
- Adoption expenses
- Moving expenses
- Medical, dental expenses
- Gambling expenses
- Mortgage interest
- Home equity loan interest
- Real estate taxes paid
- Sale of a home or other real estate
- Rental property income and expenses
- Vehicle sales taxes
- Charitable donations
- Alimony paid
- IRA, SEP, SIMPLE retirement plan contributions
- Medical savings accounts
- Affordable Care Act credits
- Energy-saving home improvements
- Casualty and theft losses
If you are self-employed, visit the Self-Employed Individuals Tax Center at IRS.gov for details. http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Self-Employed
Kelly Kordes Anton is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Littleton, Colorado. She specializes in financial education and publishing technologies.