The filing deadline for this year has just passed, so if you’re reading this in preparation for next year, good for you! Starting early - and having a system rather than a shoebox - is the best thing you can do to make the whole process as easy as possible.
So, get all your documentation together and then visit the Filing section of the IRS (Inland Revenue Service) website. That page is divided up into four simple steps to get you from "Do I need to file?" to "Has my return been processed?"
1. Get Ready
There are five links within this section to take you from knowing whether you need to file to how to get started and what affects your situation.
- Do you need to a file a return?Takes you to a page with a 12-minute self-assessment. It warns you that there’s a 5 minute timeout before you need to start again, so have all the information you need ready.
- Get your electronic filing PIN.This page will tell you the eligibility criteria, the information you will need and a link to the form to get the PIN. (Note: You don’t need this if you have a Self-Select PIN or Adjusted Gross Income from your 2013 return.)
- Determine my filing status.This links to a self-assessment page similar to the first link, this time to determine how much you will be taxed and what deductions or credits you might be eligible for.
- Life events may affect your taxes.This page will tell you how your taxes are affected by marriage, children, a new job and more.
- Gather your tax records. This link leads you to a page that describes what records you should have and how long you need to keep them, both as an individual and as a business or person with employees.
2. Your Filing Options
There are three links within this section, which will help you with how to file electronically, where to send your paper return and how to get free help.
- Explore your electronic filing options.You will see that this has three sub-links; Free File, Commercial Software and Authorized e-file Provider. If you click on the main "explore" link, it will explain what each of these are and help you find the one relevant to you.
- Get free tax prep help.This is for "qualifying taxpayers", which includes people who make less than $53,000, people with disabilities, the elderly and those with limited English.
- Find a mailing address for paper returns. These leads to a page with several links depending on what you’re sending; you will most likely use the first link (to a map where you can select your state) or the second link (to a page where you can search by form number.)
3. Prepare Your Return
This is divided into two sets of links, "Top Filing Topics" and "Publications and Instructions." Top Filing Topics covers:
- Taxpayer identification numbers: the different types and how to get the one you need
- Which form to use; the eligibility criteria for each of the three forms 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ
- Who is classed as a dependent. This leads to another self-assessment page.
- Credits & Deductions; all the credits and deductions available to individuals and business that help you to lower your taxable income.
- Should you itemize your deductions; you should if your total deductions are more than the standard amount or zero. This page also explains how you might benefit from itemizing on form 1040.
- Get answers to your questions right now. This leads to the ITA, or Interactive Tax Assistant, where you choose the question relevant to you in order to prompt a self-assessment on tax laws.
Publications and Instructions covers:
- Publication 17, Federal Income Tax Guide for Individuals, which explains the tax laws
- Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deductions and Filing Information (PDF)
- Instructions for form 1040 (not including schedules) (PDF)
- Tax tables and tax rate schedules for form 1040 (PDF)
4. After You File - Self Service
When you’ve successfully filled in the appropriate forms with the right information and had it sent off to the right address, you want to look at this section. Gone are the days when you mailed your return and crossed your fingers, this is the age when you can check your return status.
Check your refund status leads to the Where’s My Refund tool, available both online and as an app for your phone. You can start checking the status of your return 24 hours after filing online, or 4 weeks after sending it in the mail. You are advised to wait 21 days after it’s been received before calling.
Amend or correct your return gives you tips on completing the 1040X form
Check status of your amended return is the equivalent to the first link, but for an amended return. You should wait 3 weeks to start checking this, and expect it to take up to 16 weeks to be processed.
Check your withholding is for employees who need the IRS Withholding Calculator to see if they need to give their employer a new W-4 form (Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate).
Make a payment leads to the different ways you can make a payment. You will know the amount from the notice you received, by calling the number on this page, or by following the next link for your transcript.
Get a transcript of your return is a mail-only service that lets you request:
- Tax Return Transcript, usually required when you try to get a mortgage or student loan
- Tax Account Transcript with your basic data and return type
- Record of Account Transcript, a combination of the return transcript and account transcript
- Wage and Income Transcript for data from forms such as W-2s, 1099s and 1098s.
- Verification of Non-filing Letter for proof that you didn’t file a return.
It also links you to form 4506, Request for Copy of Return, if it’s a copy of your filed return that you need.
Change your address describes the different methods you can use to notify the IRS of a change of address, including the relevant forms, what to write on a written statement, what to have to hand if calling, and when you can do it electronically.
Understanding your IRS Notice. A notice is usually sent if you owe additional tax, are owed a larger refund, or if there is a question about your return. There is also a list describing all the notice numbers and why they are sent.
See also: How to Survive Tax Season in the US
Good luck with filing your return, I hope this was helpful. If you have any further advice, please let us know in the comments section below.