The information in this article is up to date through tax year 2019 (taxes filed in 2020).
Thanks to the advance of technology and the availability of exceptional tax software, filing your own return is easier than ever before. Unless you have a particularly complex tax situation, you should be able to file your own return with little difficulty.
Handling this process yourself will not only save you the expense of paying a tax professional, but it may also save you time. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that filing on your own can be quicker than filing with the help of an accountant—as long as you have a plan in place.
Step 1 – Find an online service
To get started, you will want to find an online tax service that makes it easy to file your federal and state tax return.
The key here is to find a service that is going to meet your needs based on the forms you will have to file. With TaxSlayer, you don’t pay extra for forms. The cost of tax filing is based on the type of tax support you need.
If you have an extremely simple tax situation—for example, your only income is through traditional employment (i.e. you file with a W-2), and you have no unique deductions—you may qualify for free tax filing.
If your situation is more complex and you think you’ll need a little help, TaxSlayer’s experts are available by phone or email at no additional cost to you.
Step 2 – Know the deadlines
You need to know when your taxes are due in order to make it through this process successfully. After all, learning how to do your taxes really isn’t going to pay off if you don’t do them in time!
For individual returns, April 15th is typically the date that all individual returns are due. If you are not ready to file your taxes by that date, you can file an extension that will push back your due date until October 15. However, it needs to be noted that any tax you owe is still due by the April deadline, even if your completed return is not ready to be filed.
Step 3 – Make a checklist
At this point, it would be a good idea to step back from your computer and turn to good old pen and paper for the next step. Write out a checklist of everything you can think of which may affect your tax situation. Start with your sources of income, such as traditional employment or any independent contract work. Don’t forget to include other ways in which you may have accumulated wealth, such as capital gains.
On the other side of your checklist, write down things that you believe may lead to deductions. If you have kids, there will certainly be deductions and credits associated with them. Also, you may be entitled to deductions through things like charitable donations and the interest you pay on your home, so keep an open mind.
The point of your checklist is to get a mental handle on everything in your life that affects your tax situation. By putting it all down on paper in front of you, the picture will become clearer and the task in front of you will be less intimidating.
Step 4 – Organize and Collect Your Paperwork
Now that you understand your personal tax picture, it’s time to collect all of the various pieces of paperwork that you will need in order to file. Of course, the term “paperwork” is a little out of date—much of this information will be delivered to you in digital form.
Whatever the case, gather up all of your paperwork prior to starting your return. Save all physical pieces of paper in a specific folder in your home, and set up an email folder to store the relevant online documents.
The good news is that even if you’re not completely organized—or you’re still learning how to file taxes online—you can make a start on your return before you have all of the necessary information in hand. Fill in what you can, save your progress, and make a note of what you’ll need to continue.
Step 5 – Consider all deductions and credits
This step is where it really comes in handy to have a quality piece of tax software on your side. When you use TaxSlayer, all of the work will be done for you when it comes to looking for deductions and credits. After you’ve entered your income and expense information, TaxSlayer will identify potential deductions you can take or credits you can claim. Unless your tax situation is quite complex—in which case, it may be wise to work with an accountant—automated tax software should do an excellent job of catching potential ways you can save.
Step 6 – Double-check your work
It’s a good idea to get started on your return well in advance of the filing deadline. For example, consider starting to work on your return in March rather than waiting until the middle of April. By starting early, you can complete the return but wait to file. With your work saved and waiting for you, come back to it after a few days and check for mistakes.
This kind of review will help you to catch any clerical errors you might have made, such as entering the wrong income amount or making a typo in your address. Many mistakes made in tax returns are the simple result of having to rush to finish it up and submit it before the deadline has passed.
Step 7 – Submit your return electronically
Did you know that filing your return electronically and choosing direct deposit is the fastest way to get your tax refund?
Once you complete your return online with TaxSlayer, simply click to file, and your return is delivered to the IRS without a delay. You can choose how you want to receive your funds if you deserve one. But the best part is that it’s finished – and you can rest assured that it’s correct. This is because TaxSlayer guarantees your return is accurate based on the information you entered.
Remember: get started early, take your time to make sure all of the details are correct, use a checklist, and file online with a software you can depend on.