Author: Christy Bieber | January 31, 2019
You can make filing taxes easier
Filing taxes is never very much fun. In fact, it's right up there with getting a root canal in terms of enjoyable activities. After all, you have to do lots of math, deal with endless paperwork, and understand arcane rules for credits and deductions. Then to top it off there's always the chance you'll owe money or be audited and end up in an even bigger bureaucratic nightmare.
The good news is, you don't just have to spend your time dreading tax filing season. You can take steps right now to make tax filing easier so the process is a lot more painless. Here are seven of those steps you should consider following so that getting your forms into the IRS won't be such a big hassle.
1. Don't leave things to the last minute
If you're scrambling to submit your forms on April 15, tax season is going to be much more stressful than it needs to be. Instead of waiting until the deadline, start working on your taxes early. Most forms must be sent to you before Jan. 31, so as soon as you get any needed paperwork in the mail, you can start the filing process.
If you start early, you have time to deal with problems -- such as tracking down missing receipts. You don't have to do everything in one sitting. You can also reduce the chances of identity theft by filing your forms early before someone else gets a chance to steal your info and try to falsely claim your refund from the IRS.
2. E-file your forms
The IRS encourages e-filing for simplicity, and there's little reason not to take advantage of the chance to file forms electronically. Taxpayers who make $66,000 or less are able to use IRS Free File so filing your taxes online will cost nothing at all. Many online services also offer free filing, sometimes of both state and federal returns.
The IRS describes e-filing as “faster, safer, and more accurate than mailing your tax return.” If you use one of the free online tax software programs endorsed by the IRS, the program also makes filling out your forms much easier because it asks you questions in plain, simple language to help you find deductions.
3. Take full advantage of helpful IRS tools
While many taxpayers love to hate the IRS, the agency is actually pretty helpful to taxpayers who are trying to navigate the complexities of the U.S. tax code. In fact, the IRS website has an interactive tax assistant that you can use to answer important questions like:
- Whether you
need to file a return
- Who you can
claim as a dependent
- How much your standard deduction is
- What your filing status is
you're eligible for any education credits
The interactive tax assistant asks you a few simple questions to help you get the answers to these and other important tax issues. Using the interactive tools is a heck of a lot easier than trying to figure out the answers yourself just by reading the instructions on IRS forms.
4. Keep all your paperwork together
Organization is key to successful tax filing, so make life easier for yourself by keeping all of your documents organized. When you receive forms in the mail, like a mortgage interest statement or student loan interest statement or a 1099, put all these tax documents together so you can access them when you sit down to file.
Make sure you keep your receipts documenting potential deductions together as well. This could include receipts for business expenses, medical expenditures, and charitable donations.
The last thing you want is to be hunting for a form when you finally start to input your information into the e-file program, so don't put yourself in the position where your documents are scattered about.
5. Check out the changes to the tax rules in advance
Doing your taxes this year is going to be pretty different than last year. For starters, there's a new simplified 1040 form. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act also made some other big changes to the tax code, including almost doubling the standard deduction and changing the rules for dependents, child tax credits, mortgage interest deductions, and more.
You don't want to be trying to learn the new rules for the first time when you sit down to do your taxes, so check out this guide to the changes ushered in by tax reform. You may find that you can seriously simplify your taxes by claiming the standard deduction when previously you itemized, or may discover the new 1040 form is much easier to fill out.
6. Consider consulting a professional
If you find taxes simply too overwhelming even when you make your best efforts, there's nothing that says you have to take care of this task yourself.
If your tax return isn't too complicated, it's usually pretty affordable to hire an accountant to walk you through the process. If your tax return is complex or you've had some major financial or lifestyle changes, paying fees for professional tax help is often worth the investment. A tax professional can help you to potentially claim more credits and deductions than you'd find on your own, and can also work with you to reduce the risk of an audit.
You don't necessarily always have to pay for professional help either. Certain taxpayers, such as the elderly and people with lower incomes, may be able to qualify for free tax prep assistance.
7. Pay your taxes online -- or claim your refund electronically
Finally, you should pay your taxes online or request an electronic refund to simplify the process of exchanging money with the IRS.
Paying online can be done for free using Direct Pay with your bank account and you won't need to worry about getting to the post office and mailing a check. Or, if you're getting a refund, you can track it more easily -- and it will get to your account more quickly -- if you've chosen to have the funds deposited automatically in your account instead of being mailed to you.
Anything you can do to make tax filing easier is worth the effort
Planning in advance, staying organized, and learning the new tax rules should make your life a lot simpler. Making these small efforts will help ensure that when it actually comes time to file your forms, the process is a breeze.
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