Filing taxes for the 2019 tax year looks a little different, as the IRS has extended the deadline to July 15, 2020 due to the COVID-19 crisis. But while you may have a few more months to get your forms in, completing them can still be a burden.
The good news is that taking a few simple steps will make it easier for you to fulfill your obligations to the IRS without spending more time or experiencing more aggravation than necessary.
1. Wait until you get all your forms together
There's nothing worse than starting your taxes and finding out you can't finish them because you're missing an essential document. To make sure you can get through the process once you begin, get all your forms together first. Depending on your situation, this could include:
- W-2s from your employer and 1099s showing other income
- A record of estimated taxes paid
- Your 1095-A form if you're enrolled in a health insurance policy through a state or federal health insurance marketplace
- Your 1098 form showing mortgage interest paid
- Your 1098-E showing student loan interest paid
- Your 1098-T form showing tuition expenses
- 5498 forms showing IRA and HSA contributions
There may also be many other documents required, such as a record of charitable donations. Whatever you expect to need in order to claim deductions and credits and to provide income information to the IRS, make sure you have it ready.
2. Claim the standard deduction unless you save more by itemizing
The standard deduction is worth $12,200 for singles or those who are married filing separately; $18,350 if you file as head-of-household; and $24,400 if you file as married filing jointly.
Claiming the standard deduction is easier than itemizing because any tax filer is entitled to it, and you don't need to document specific financial transactions that allow you to claim deductions.
Of course, if itemizing nets you more tax savings, it's worth going to the extra trouble. But if you'll be able to deduct the same amount, or close to it, whether you itemize or claim the standard deduction, you may want to skip the hassle.
3. Use the free IRS tools available to you
The IRS has an interactive tax assistant online that allows you to input some basic information and get answers to some of your most pressing tax questions.
You can use the online tools to figure out what your filing status is; whether you can claim an education credit; who you can claim as a dependent; and even whether you need to file a tax return at all.
And that's just the start of the assistance available online. Since the IRS is overburdened with sending stimulus checks and is offering very limited customer assistance, making use of this online help can make life a lot easier if you have questions.
4. Research your options for online tax-filing software
Filing your 2019 tax returns online is critical, as the IRS isn't currently processing paper returns. If you don't want to wait months to get your refund, you'll need to e-file. The good news is that there are lots of options for free e-filing services.
If your income is below $66,000, you can use these services at no cost if you're submitting a simple return. If your income is higher or your tax situation is complex, you'll be relegated to a paid version, but prices are generally affordable. It's a good idea to research the different programs to see which one will cost you the least given your specific filing needs. And pay attention to which has the best reputation for being user-friendly if you want to make filing as simple as possible.
Don't make tax season more difficult than it needs to be
Filing tax forms will never be fun, but by getting your forms together in advance and making use of online tools to help, you can make the process much easier to accomplish. Remember, you have until July 15 to complete your forms and pay what's due, so you have a little time to get your ducks in a row before diving in.