Start early to save time and money
Whether you file your taxes using tax preparation software or with the help of a tax professional, you can save a lot of time and money by getting organized early. Here’s a tax preparation checklist to help you get a jump on tax filing season.
Gather personal information
All the personal information you will need can be found on last year’s tax forms, including Social Security numbers for yourself, your spouse and dependents.
Gather income information
You may not receive your W-2 or 1099 forms from your employer until late January since they have until January 31 to issue them. In the meantime, gather records of earnings deposits, realized capital gains, interest and dividends, and other income received during the year because you will want to compare them to your W-2 and 1099 forms when you receive them.
Gather proof of losses
If you sold any investments for losses, document them with records of your transactions. Your year-end brokerage statement will provide a complete record of transactions, including the purchase and sell dates and prices as well as the amount of the loss.
Gather documentation for deductions
If you itemize on Schedule A, gather all receipts and documents verifying your deductions. You can save time by separating them into Schedule A categories. These deductions might include medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income, property taxes, charitable donations, state and local taxes and mortgage interest.
If you don’t itemize because your total deductions don’t exceed the standard deduction, which is $25,900 for joint filers, $19,400 for head-of-household and $12,950 for single filers, you can still claim some deductions on your Form 1040. These deductions include:
- Retirement account contributions: Gather your retirement account statements. You need to account for any contributions you will make to your IRA through April 15.
- Education expenses: Students or their parents can claim a deduction for education expenses such as tuition, fees and student loan interest. Education expense deductions must be claimed on Form 1098-T for expenses, and Form 1098-E for student loan interest.
- Health Savings Account contributions: If you contribute to an HSA, you can deduct contributions made through April 15.
Line up your tax credits
Tax credits are dollar-for-dollar reductions in your income, so you’ll want to maximize any that you have coming to you. You don’t have to itemize to claim them, but you will need documentation. Check to determine your eligibility for any of the following credits:
- American opportunity and lifetime learning credits are in addition to any education expense deductions claimed on Form 1098-T, which is also used for claiming the credits.
- Child tax credit: If you are eligible, with less than $400,000 in joint income, or $200,000 in single income, you could receive up to $2,000 in tax credits per qualifying dependent child. The credit is claimed on Schedule 8812 (Credits for Qualifying Children and Other Dependents).
- Retirement savings (Saver’s) Credit: If you meet the income thresholds, you could claim up to $2,000 per couple or $1,000 per individual for contributions to your 401(k) or IRA.
Verify tax payments made throughout the year
Gather copies of your payment forms if you made any estimated payments for your federal taxes during the past year.
This tax preparation checklist is helpful for a majority of tax filers, but you may need to tailor it to your situation.
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