Tax Day is Less Than Two Weeks Away: Use This Tax Prep Checklist To Get Organized
There’s nothing worse than thinking you have everything you need to file your taxes, but you forget that one document. This tax prep checklist ensure you have all the tax documents you need so you don’t have to meet your tax preparer a second time. And if you wait until the last minute to file, having all the required documents can make the difference between filing on-time and paying a late payment penalty if you owe money this year.
While DIY tax prep programs like TurboTax do a stellar job at making sure you don’t forget any important documents, you don’t want to spend all evening filing your taxes because you need to look for the form online or in your stack of mail with each screen. So taking a few minutes the day before you file can prevent frustration on filing day.
Every tax prep program starts the tax return process by gathering your personal information. Besides your name and filing status–single, married filing jointly, head of household– you might need some other key information to make sure you don’t accidentally overpay.
Social Security Numbers of Spouse and Children
Having dependents can mean the difference between paying in and getting a tax refund. But, you need to submit the correct Social Security number to claim them on your return. If you had a child born this year, you might forget to bring their number and will need to spend a few minutes looking for it.
For all dependents you claimed last year, the information should automatically transfer over from last year’s tax return. It’s still a good idea to verify the numbers for accuracy.
Last Year’s Tax Return
You might prefer to have a paper copy of last year’s tax return. You can use it to compare your personal information–dates of birth and Social Security numbers–but also your income and deductions. When you’re ready to file your tax return, you may also have to reference last year’s adjusted gross income to verify your identity.
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To fight tax fraud, there’s a good chance you need to submit your driver’s license number to verify your identity. Your spouse will need to have their license too.
You will need the following forms to report income to the IRS. If you earn more than $600 in a calendar year from one employer, they will send you either a W-2 or Form 1099 depending on if you’re an employee or independent contractor.
If you’re an employee who receives workplace benefits or your employer automatically withholds taxes from your salary, you will receive a Form W-2. This form includes your gross earnings, total taxes withheld, retirement account contributions, healthcare premiums paid, etc. Federal law requires all W-2 forms to be postmarked by January 31.
The top-notch tax prep programs like TurboTax now let you take a picture of your W-2 to automatically upload the data so you don’t have to type it in by time; this saves time and prevents reporting errors.
If you earn a freelance income, you’ll have at least one of these forms. Even if you don’t receive a form, you’re still responsible for reporting the income. You will receive this form if you’re an independent contractor for ridesharing companies like Uber or Lyft, for example.
If you sold any stock investments last year, your brokerage will send you a 1099-B to report any capital gains earned. Depending on which investments you sold, you should usually receive this document by mid-February.
When you don’t sell any stock but you still earn dividend income from your investments, you’ll receive a Form 1099-DIV that tells how much dividend income you earned for the year.
Any interest you earn from bank accounts and certificates of deposit will be reported with a 1099-INT.
Form 1099-R is distributed when you withdraw any money from a tax-advantaged retirement account like your 401k or IRA.
All Social Security benefits received are reported on a Form SSA-1099.
Now for the fun part! Deductions are what help you get a refund instead of paying in. While you don’t want to forget to report any income, you don’t want to forget a deduction either because you’re giving away money for free.
This form shows how much money you paid in qualified educational expenses for the year. Even if you had to borrow money to pay for these expenses, you can still get a tax break for these expenses.
Did you pay student loan interest this year? If so, you can deduct your student loan interest whether you itemize or not. You can deduct the first $2,500 of interest paid each year.
Retirement Account Contributions
Your brokerage won’t send you an official retirement account contribution form until after April 15th because you can continue to make contributions for last year until the federal tax filing deadline. Before you file, tally your pre-tax (Traditional IRA) and post-tax (Roth IRA) contributions together that you’re making for the tax year.
Traditional pre-tax contributions will lower your taxable income. Roth IRA contributions won’t affect your tax refund or liability, but you could pay a penalty if you contribute more than $5,500 a year per taxpayer.
Your employer 401k contributions will be listed on your W-2 so don’t include these with your personal retirement accounts to prevent a reporting error.
Form 1098 Paid Home Mortgage Interest
You need to itemize to claim paid home mortgage interest, but keep this information handy even if you don’t think you have enough itemizable deductions. This form also shows how much you paid in-home hazard insurance which might qualify as a tax deduction too depending on your tax situation.
Charitable contributions can help you qualify to itemize your federal tax return. You will receive end-of-year giving statements from the organizations you contributed to. While you don’t need these to file, you will need to produce them if you get audited by the IRS.
Qualified contributions can include:
- Cash contributions
- Donating tangible assets (i.e. your old car, stock gifts, property)
- Volunteer hours
- Miles driven to volunteer
Track your annual medical expenses as they might be a qualified deduction depending on how much you spend compared to your annual income.
Form 1095 Proof of Health Insurance
While the individual mandate is waived beginning in 2018, you still need to have carried health insurance or a healthcare alternative in 2017 to avoid the individual mandate tax penalty. Either your employer or medical insurance provider will mail you Form 1095-A to show how many months each person in your family had adequate coverage to avoid the cash penalty that’s due at tax time.
Depending on where you purchase your health insurance, you’ll receive one of the following Form 1095 versions:
- Form 1095-A
- Form 1095-B
- Form 1095-C
You will want to bring any additional information that might pertain to your tax situation for income, deductions, or both. The tax prep programs will walk you through the process and ask you a series of questions. It does this to make sure you don’t overlook the most common income sources and deductions. If you still need to file your taxes, check the applicable items off this tax prep checklist. There won’t be any surprises, except how big your refund might be.
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