How Do You File a Tax Return?


Quick Answer

You can file tax returns either with the help of a tax preparer or as a solo effort. A certified tax preparer is likely to pick up any errors to prevent possible audits and can point out possible deductions that could maximize the return amount. Filing taxes online is convenient and low-priced in many cases. Either way, it's best to have everything ready in advance.

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Full Answer

  1. Gather all documents pertaining to finances

    This includes pay stubs, bills, deeds to new property or car titles. If you're self-employed, you need to file a 1099-MISC, based on your income. Conventional employers send out a W2 or W4 in January for the previous year. Keep these documents in a file box for easy access and organization. Also, print out a copy of Form 1040-EZ or 1040-A from the IRS website.

  2. Visit the tax preparer, or go to a tax filing website of choice

    When filing with someone's help, the other person goes through and helps enter the appropriate amounts in the right places. Income from self-employment, for example, is typically under Schedule C, Profit or Loss from Business. If filing online, the website walks you through the return step by step.

  3. Double-check the return for errors

    An incorrect tax return can result in audits and penalties, or deductions can end up less than optimal.

  4. Submit the return online, or mail it to the appropriate address

    Filing online requires a service PIN on most tax filing websites. It's best to set this up beforehand to prevent late filing. Remember that federal tax returns are due in April of each year, so file early. If you decide to complete a paper 1040, send it to the right address via certified mail. The 1040 comes with instructions about the proper address, which varies by your home state.

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