One of the biggest challenges in preparing your tax return is making sure you have all the tax documents you need. Because different forms come out at different times, you need to know what to expect to track what you've received and ferret out any forms that might be missing.
W-2s: Feb. 1
Wages and salary income are reported on Form W-2, and the due date for that form was Feb. 1. If you haven't yet received a W-2 for a job you had in 2015, then now is the time to go to your employer to ask when it will be available. Typically, the W-2 is one of the only forms you'll need to attach physically to a paper-filed return, and it contains essential information that will determine not just how much your tax liability is but also how much you've had withheld from your paychecks and therefore how big your potential refund might be.
Most 1099s: Feb. 1
In addition to W-2, most of the information that's reported on various 1099 forms is also due out to taxpayers by the beginning of February. Those forms include the 1099-INT for interest income, 1099-DIV for dividend income, 1099-R for retirement plan distributions, and 1099-G for tax refunds and other government payments. In addition, most 1099-MISC forms for nonemployee compensation are also due to recipients by Feb. 1.
Some 1099s: Feb. 15
A couple of 1099 forms have later due dates. If you sold securities during 2015, then you'll get a Form 1099-B from your broker or fund company. Because the calculations are somewhat more complex, those forms aren't due until mid-February. Similarly, 1099-S for real-estate sales information also has a mid-February due date, as do certain 1099-MISC forms covering attorney's fees and substitute payments.
1098 Forms: Feb. 1
Certain types of deductible interest payments, including home mortgage interest and student loan interest, are reported on forms in the 1098 series. These forms are due to taxpayers on Feb. 1, and they have vital information that you'll need to take any available deductions correctly on your tax return. For instance, Form 1098 often includes not just mortgage interest but also any real-estate taxes that you pay out of the same escrow account. You'll need both figures to itemize deductions.
Schedule K-1: March 15 or April 15
Those who invest in master limited partnerships or other investment vehicles that are treated as partnerships for tax purposes receive reporting documentation on Schedule K-1, and those forms are notorious for coming late in the tax-preparation cycle. According to IRS Publication 509, K-1s are due to investors by the 15th day of the fourth month following the end of the tax year, which is April 15 for partnerships on a calendar year. Certain electing large partnerships have an earlier March 15 deadline to provide investors with K-1s.
As a practical matter, though, many K-1s come in later than the deadline. It's therefore very important to make note of which investments you own that will report income on Schedule K-1 so that you don't file too early. Otherwise, you'll likely have to amend your tax return later, with the consequent headaches that accompany it.
Handling missing information
If you don't get a form you expect, your best course is to contact the financial institution or other provider to see if it's been prepared. In many cases, you don't have to have the actual form to get your taxes done, but you'll want to see the form eventually to confirm that its numbers are correct and match up with yours.
Having to wait for tax documents is a big hassle for those expecting refunds. However, by tracking when you should have all your information, you can avoid jumping the gun and filing an incorrect return.