Deadline: April 18. What you need to know before filing your federal tax return

The IRS is officially open for filing and you’ve received your required forms. Now what?

First and foremost, make sure that the forms you received are CORRECT. If they’re not, contact the issuer and get the right ones as soon as possible. The sooner you can get an error fixed, the better! And definitely before filing your own tax return.

Double-check that you’ve gotten all the forms you’re supposed to. W2s and 1099-NECs are the common ones we remember. But don’t forget about the 1099-R if you’ve had a rollover or distribution from a retirement plan; the 1099-G if you’ve received unemployment compensation; or the K-1 if you received income from a partnership or real estate rental. If there are forms you know you should have received but haven’t, be sure to contact the issuer as soon as possible and request a copy.

You now have all your ducks in a row. Did you know that if your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) is $73,000 or less, you can file your federal income tax return directly with the IRS? It’s free and completely secure.

I always owe the IRS! Or (just as bad) I’m getting a huge refund!

Photo by Alexander Mils on

Some folks wear their yearly tax refund like a badge of honor. But folks, it’s YOUR money and if you’re getting money back, you’ve just given the government a year-long, interest-free loan. As an employee, filling out a form W4 tells your employer how much money to withhold from your paycheck each pay period and send to the government on your behalf to offset your federal income tax liability. That’s not a one-time proposition. Circumstances change, and you may not get it right on the first try. We suggest using the IRS’ free tax withholding estimator to help you gauge how much to have your employer take from your paycheck.

I can’t do this on my own. How can I get help?

If you’re one of the 33.2 million small businesses in the US, you may need help filing your taxes. Finding a qualified tax preparer can seem daunting, but the IRS offers these tips to help you choose:

  • Be wary of tax return preparers who claim they can obtain larger refunds than others can.
  • Avoid tax return preparers who base their fees on a percentage of the refund or who offer to deposit all or part of your refund into their financial accounts.
  • Ensure you use a preparer with a PTIN (preparer tax identification number). Paid tax return preparers must have a PTIN to prepare all or substantially all of a tax return.
  • Use a reputable tax professional who enters his or her PTIN on the tax return, signs the tax return, and provides you with a copy of the return (as required).
  • Consider whether the individual or firm will be around for months or years after filing the return to answer questions about the preparation of the tax return.
  • Never sign a blank tax form.
  • Check the person’s credentials. Only attorneys, CPAs, and enrolled agents can represent taxpayers before the IRS in all matters, including audits, collections, and appeals. Other tax return preparers who participate in the IRS Annual Filing Season Program have limited practice rights to represent taxpayers for audits of returns they prepared and signed.

An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure

Ol’ Ben Franklin really was right about a lot of things, this being one of them. Having your financial house in order long before tax season starts is a great way to save yourself a boatload of stress. Taking a few steps each week during the year to ensure that is easier than you think.

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