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Filing Income Tax Returns

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Filing Income Tax Returns

In the United States, federal, state and city/community income tax returns are due annually, on or before April 15th each year. You must prepare and file your tax return prior to this date each year in order to avoid penalties.

Gather the following items together in order to start preparing your tax return:

  • W-2 Forms from employers showing your annual earnings and withholdings.
  • 1099 Forms from banks and other financial institutions showing interest and dividends on your bank and investment accounts. You may also use this form to report self-employment income.
  • Information on expenses you intend to document and claim as deductions on your return. Example deductions include but are not limited to itemized medical expenses, child care expenses, or employee business expenses.
  • Social Security numbers for dependent children and anyone else you intend to claim as a dependent.
  • A copy of last year's tax return (Store tax returns in a safe and accessible place for at least 7 years!).
  • Receipts that document your itemized deductions

You should have received these various forms in the mail (starting around January) from your employer(s), and from the various financial institutions which whom you have transacted business in the past year.

Once you have assembled these items you will need to complete the appropriate tax form. IRS tax forms are addressed in the next section.

Tax Forms

Completing your income taxes requires that you fill out one or more tax forms, available from the federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and from state and local government departments of revenue. Forms are generally available for free at libraries, post offices and many other locations during the first quarter of the year (prior to April 15th).

There are a number of different tax forms that you can use to file your taxes. Each tax form does something different, so it is important that you understand how to select the correct form for what you are trying to accomplish. Below is a list of the most popular federal tax forms. Each form's name is accompanied below by a short description of what the form is used for.

Here are some general rules to consider when deciding which paper tax form to file.

Use the 1040EZ if:

  • Your taxable income is below $100,000
  • Your filing status is single or married filing jointly
  • You are not claiming any dependents
  • Your interest income is $1,500 or less

Use the 1040A if:

  • Your taxable income is below $100,000
  • You have capital gain distributions
  • You claim certain tax credits
  • You claim adjustments to income for IRA contributions and student loan interest

If you cannot use the 1040EZ or the 1040A, you’ll probably need to file using the 1040. Among the reasons you must use the 1040 are:

  • Your taxable income is $100,000 or more
  • You claim itemized deductions
  • You are reporting self-employment income
  • You are reporting income from sale of property