First, you’ll want to decide if you’ll use a professional tax preparer or a credible tax preparation software. If your tax situation is complex - perhaps you sold some investments or started a company - you may want to work with a certified public accountant, who has licensing, training, and up-to-date knowledge of tax laws. If your taxes are simpler, though, you can use a tax software system and file your federal and state forms directly from your couch. Some eligible taxpayers can even file their taxes for free, but for those who don’t qualify, the cost is typically only between $50 and $100. You can choose add-ons, like having a tax professional review your filing, for an additional fee.
Do I Need to File?
Your obligation to file taxes depends on your tax status. Filers under age 65 who are married and filing jointly must file if they earned more than $24,000 in 2018. Single filers under 65 must file if they earned more than $12,000 in 2018. Most tax experts do recommend filing a return whether you need to or not since the IRS and state agencies then only have limited time to perform an audit. Otherwise, failure to file gives the IRS and state agencies the ability to perform an audit on you anytime they want with no statute of limitations.
What Counts as Income?
There are many types of taxable income. The most common forms include wages and salaries, self-employment income, tips and gratuities, gambling winnings, cancelled or forgiven debt, alimony, pension and retirement plan income, social security benefits, and unemployment benefits. Income resources that aren’t taxable include child support, veteran benefits, and most insurance proceeds.
When Can I File?
According to the IRS, taxpayers were able to start filing taxes for 2018 income on January 28, 2019. While you can file up until Monday, April 15th, filing early can reduce the time someone could illegally file taxes in your name and steal your refund.
Should you miss the deadline to file your taxes and you anticipate owing, you’ll want to file your return and pay your taxes as soon as you can to avoid paying a late-filing penalty, which can be up to five percent of your unpaid taxes each month. If you expect to receive a refund, you’re still legally required to file a return; you have three years from the tax deadline to collect the money you’re owed, though most of us won’t wait that long. (Hey, money is money!)
The majority of tax refunds are issued in 21 days or less and most are paid through direct deposit. It’s tempting to use your refund to book a vacation or sign the kids up for summer art camp, but if you have debt that needs to be paid off, pay it first and then divide the rest of your refund between a little respite at the beach and your savings account.