Most people probably aren't in a big hurry to get their taxes done long before this year's April 15 deadline. But that's not necessarily true if you're expecting to get a big refund. In that case, the sooner you file, the sooner you can get your money back from the IRS.
Tax filing season typically starts in late January, but even then, most people don't have all the forms they need in order to prepare their tax returns correctly. To make sure you've gotten all of your income and deductions correct, it's important to have the various tax information forms that your employer, financial institutions, and others provide. Here's a calendar of when you can expect to get the forms you need to get your refund headed your way.
W-2 forms: Jan. 31
The key form that nearly every taxpayer needs is the W-2 form. This is the form employers are required to give you that contain your gross income and taxable income after taking out work-related deductions. It also tells you how much money you had withheld from paychecks to cover federal and state income tax, which you'll need in order to calculate the amount of your refund.
You can also use the information on Form W-2 to find out how much money you spent on various tax-favored benefits, including employer-sponsored retirement plan contributions, employer-provided health insurance, flexible spending plans, and other similar tax breaks. If you haven't gotten your W-2 by Jan. 31, then you should go to your employer right away to find out if there's been a mistake.
Most 1098 and 1099 forms: Jan. 31
The deadline for most of the forms that you'll get from various financial institutions is also Jan. 31. That includes banks reporting interest income on Form 1099-INT, stocks and brokerage companies reporting dividend income on Form 1099-DIV, taxable withdrawals from retirement plans on Form 1099-R, and mortgage lenders reporting deductible mortgage interest and fees on Form 1098.
In addition, if you work not as an employee but as an independent contractor or are self-employed, then the payments you receive from your clients generally get reported on Form 1099-MISC. Jan. 31 is the deadline for that form as well.
Form 1099-B and some similar forms: Feb. 15
For simple investment calculations like interest and dividends, 31 days is more than enough to expect financial institutions to get information gathered. But for other information, it takes more time. For instance, in reporting sales of stocks and other investments on Form 1099-B, brokers have to analyze holding periods, calculate basis and sales proceeds, and determine an estimate of capital gain or loss for use on your tax return.
To acknowledge that need, the IRS gives brokers until Feb. 15 to provide Form 1099-B to their customers. In addition, an extended mid-February deadline applies to Form 1099-S for reporting real estate sales information and various 1099-MISC returns for items other than compensation for services.
Schedule K-1s: March 15 or April 15
If you've invested in a business entity that's in the form of a partnership, limited liability company, or other association electing to be taxed as a partnership, then you'll get key tax info on Schedule K-1. That's also the case if you're a partner in a professional business like a medical practice or law firm that's organized using these entities.
The deadlines vary depending on the size of the entity. A partnership that qualifies as what's known as an electing large partnership needs to provide a K-1 by March 15. For others, April 15 is the deadline. For the most part, that requires those expecting K-1s to file for extensions -- and makes it impossible to file early in order to get a refund.
What to do if you don't get your tax forms on time
The first thing to do if these deadlines pass without getting a form you expected is to contact your employer or financial institution. Because there are potential IRS penalties involved for those reporting entities, you shouldn't have to wait long to get the answers you want.
Conversely, don't assume that just because you didn't get a tax form that you don't have to report income you know about. The IRS has multiple ways to get tax info, and if your numbers don't match with what they have on file, then you could get audited and owe extra interest and penalties.
Anyone getting a refund wants to file as soon as they can, but it doesn't make sense to file without all the information you need. By knowing these deadlines, you'll be in a better position to get your refund quickly without any extra hassles.