Filing your taxes can be daunting, but having the right forms and documents ready makes it much more manageable. The paperwork you need to prepare your federal income tax return varies from person to person and depends on your filing status, the types of income you receive, and the deductions and tax credits you can claim.
In other words, a single adult just graduating college with no spouse, children, or investments would have a very different return than a family of four who owns their own business, actively invests in the stock market, and has a mortgage.
Despite these differences, everyone needs some items to file a tax return and collect their tax refund (or pay their balance due). Use this tax checklist as a guide to help gather your essential documents, and your tax advisor will let you know if you need to provide anything additional.
1. Personal information
To prepare your tax returns, you’ll need to disclose your legal name—the one on file with the Social Security Administration—and the names of your spouse and dependents (if any). You’ll also need birthdates and Social Security numbers for you and everyone listed on your return.
If you don’t have your Social Security numbers memorized, it’s a good idea to double-check your Social Security cards to ensure they’re entered correctly. If the information you provide doesn’t match what the government has on file, the IRS will reject your electronically filed return, and there may be delays in processing a paper-filed return.
Also, if you have an Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN) from the IRS, you’ll need this for the tax preparer to e-file your taxes. The IRS often assigns IP PINs to victims of tax-related identity theft, preventing anyone else from filing a tax return using your Social Security number.
2. Prior-year information
Whether you prepare your own tax return or use a tax professional to do the filing, you should have a copy of last year’s return handy. This ensures your return includes any carryovers, such as depreciation, capital losses, net operating losses, or overpayments applied to the following tax year.
While you might be able to file your return without it, giving your tax preparer a copy of last year’s return reduces the risk of making a mistake and ensures you don’t miss out on any available deductions.
You must disclose all income on your tax returns—not just the income you remember. In many cases, your employer or financial institutions will send you informational returns, such as W-2s or 1099s, reporting the income you received during the tax year. But even if you don’t get a 1099, you need to report the income on your tax return.
Think of all sources of income you’ve had in the last year, and find the proper documentation to back it up.
Here are some common income documents you may have:
- Form W-2. If you work for someone as an employee, you should receive Form W-2 by January 31st of each year. Your W-2 reports your income and any taxes withheld from your salary or wages.
- Form 1099-NEC. If you worked as an independent contractor or freelancer, the company you worked for should issue a Form 1099-NEC if they paid you more than $600 during the year.
- Form 1099-INT. Your bank or investment firm will report any interest you earn from your bank or investment accounts on a 1099-INT. You may also expect to receive this form from a mortgage broker if your property counts as an investment.
- Form 1099-DIV. You should receive a 1099-DIV from your brokerage if you earned any dividends from your investments—even if they were reinvested back into your account.
- Form 1099-B. If you sold stocks, bonds, or other investments during the year, your broker should send you Form 1099-B. This form provides the information you need to report capital gains and losses on your tax return.
- Form W-2G. If you have any gambling winnings, such as from the lottery or a casino, the payor will report the earnings on Form W-2G.
- Form 1099-R. If you received any distributions from a pension, retirement fund, IRA, or annuity, they should appear on Form 1099-R.
- Schedule K-1. If you’re involved in a partnership, LLC, or S Corporation, you should receive a Schedule K-1 reporting your share of the company’s income, losses, and deductions. You’ll use this schedule to report income from the business on your return.
4. Tax deductions and tax credits
Taking advantage of tax deductions and credits can lower your taxable income and reduce the amount of tax you owe. You may have more tax deductions that aren’t listed here, or you might not qualify for all of them. However, this list can be a good starting point for gathering your tax documents.
- Medical bills. If your medical costs exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income, you may be able to deduct them as itemized deductions. Make sure you have detailed statements for every payment made for medical, dental, and vision services and any health insurance premiums you paid.
- Mortgage interest. If you own a home, you may be able to deduct any mortgage interest you paid on your home loan. Your lender should send you Form 1098 showing the amount you paid during the year.
- Property taxes. If you own property, you may be able to deduct any real estate or property taxes you paid during the year. If you paid the property taxes via your mortgage lender, the property taxes should be on the Form 1098 your lender sends in January. Otherwise, you may need copies of your tax bills or a record of payments from your local assessor’s office.
- Charitable contributions. Donations to qualified charitable organizations may be deductible. Keep all receipts for your charitable gifts to give to your tax pro.
- Business expenses. If you run a business, keep a record of all costs, as these can lower your taxable income and self-employment tax.
- Educational expenses. If you paid higher education tuition for yourself, your spouse, or dependents, you might qualify for a tax credit. You should receive Form 1098-T from the school.
- State and local taxes. Any state or local taxes you pay, including income, sales, and property taxes, may be deductible. State and local taxes withheld from your wages are shown on your W-2. However, you should include proof of payment for any estimated taxes you paid during the year.
- Dependent care credit. If you paid for childcare for your dependents while you work, you may qualify for the Child and Dependent Care Credit to help offset those costs. You’ll need the provider's name, address, tax ID number, and records of the amount you paid.
- Retirement account contributions - If you contributed funds to an IRA or SEP IRA, you may be able to deduct your contributions and claim the Saver’s Credit. Provide proof of the deductions and the type of account you contributed to, and your tax professional will determine what tax breaks you can claim.
5. Tax payments
The U.S. has a pay-as-you-go income tax system, meaning you’re supposed to pay taxes as you earn income rather than a lump sum when you file your tax return. If you work for an employer, they withhold taxes for you, but if you’re self-employed or have other sources of income, you may need to make quarterly estimated payments.
Common documents for tax payments include:
- Overpayments from the prior year's return. If you overpaid last year and allocated the funds to the following year’s taxes, provide your previous year's returns to show your tax preparer how much was carried forward to this year.
- Quarterly estimated taxes. You may need to pay estimated quarterly taxes if you’re self-employed or have other miscellaneous income. If you do, provide proof of payment to your tax preparer so they can include them in your tax calculations.
- Amounts paid with extension. If you request an extension of time to file your return, you may need to pay the tax you owe by the regular deadline. Provide proof of any payment you made with the extension to ensure the tax payments applied to your balance are accurate.
How can Taxfyle help?
Having a professional prepare your tax returns takes the stress of tax season off your shoulders. It means you don’t have to spend this time worrying about documents and cramming the most recent tax updates at the last minute. Instead you can focus on something else while one of Taxfyle’s qualified Tax Professionals worry about filing your taxes.
Our Pros are each licensed and experienced CPAs or EAs who are capable of handling your unique tax needs. Whether your tax return is simple of complex, our Pros can file them.