The information in this article is up to date through tax year 2020 (taxes filed in 2021).
When you have income withheld from your paychecks for income taxes, you may be entitled to get some of that back when you file your tax return. Your tax refund can be bigger or smaller depending on how accurately you fill out your taxes. Here are some things you can do to ensure you’re getting every dollar you deserve.
1. Estimate your refund before you file
Did you know you can calculate your estimated tax refund even before the IRS opens? If you’ve received your W-2 (or even if you haven’t) you can enter your income and expense information into TaxSlayer’s Refund Calculator. The tool is entirely free to use, and it gives you a good idea of what you can expect to receive (or owe) once you do file your tax return.
The Refund Calculator is updated year after year for any tax law changes, so it might uncover a new deduction you weren’t planning for. If your estimated refund is less than expected, consider checking your W-4 withholdings.
2. Optimize your filing status
The status you choose determines the rate at which your income is taxed and can impact the size of important tax deductions, like the standard deduction. Your filing status will be one of these:
- married filing jointly
- married filing separately
- head of household
- qualifying widow(er) with dependent child
If you’re married (including if you just got married this year), then you will have to file as married, but you can choose to file jointly or separately.
If you’ve never been married, you’ll probably file as single. But, if you have dependents, you might qualify for the head of household status. Learn more about filing status options available to you.
3. Provide all your income and expense information
Depending on your situation, you might receive several different tax forms around tax time. You may also have lots of expenses to report. The best way to get all your tax breaks is to gather your documents and enter your information exactly as it appears on the forms. Click here for a checklist of important docs you’ll need.
When you file with TaxSlayer, you’ll be asked simple questions that make it easy to enter your information. Then, TaxSlayer will put your income and expenses where they belong on your tax return. It will also find every tax break you can claim – and then do the calculations for you.
4. Consider itemizing if it makes sense
Did you buy a home? Do you have major medical expenses? Did you make a large donation to charity or maybe buy a new car? These and other events could make you eligible for some major tax deductions. The thing is, sometimes those deductions require you to itemize.
This is another reason why reporting all your information accurately is so important. TaxSlayer will compare your options and help you decide if the standard deduction is right for you. But if you could get a larger refund by itemizing instead, TaxSlayer will let you know.
5. Remember to report income from your other job(s)
If you earn more than $400 for doing work – even if it’s just a side gig, you’ll need to report that self-employed income. Yes, this could mean you’ll need to pay self-employment taxes during the year. But, when you file your return, you can also deduct expenses that are related to your work, including:
- home office
- marketing and advertising
Does the IRS consider you self-employed? Here’s how to tell.
With TaxSlayer’s Self-Employed option, you’ll have a 1099 tax expert in your corner to answer your questions.
6. Claim all possible tax credits
A tax credit is an amount of money that you can apply directly to your tax bill, so you owe less. Credits can be refundable, partially refundable, or non-refundable. Refundable credit amounts can be added to your tax refund if you don’t owe taxes.
Common credits include:
- earned income credit,
- child and dependent care credit
- child tax credit
- residential energy credit
- saver’s credit
- adoption credit
- credit for the elderly/disabled
You don’t have to know about all the credits that you can claim, but you should carefully report all your income and expenses. This is because all of TaxSlayer’s packages, including the Simply Free package, feature a deduction/credit finder.
7. Compare with last year’s return
Make sure that nothing was missed. If your tax situation this year looks a lot like it did last year, your refund could be relatively the same. It’s an opportunity to double-check that you entered your expenses and income correctly.
Fun Fact: TaxSlayer makes it easy to upload a prior year return. The data gets imported from your forms, so you won’t have to re-enter information that hasn’t changed.
Watch this video for more information about receiving your maximum refund: