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How to File Taxes: 2024 Tax-Filing Guide

Whether you're a first-time filer or just need help learning how to file taxes on your own, here's a quick guide that covers how, when and where to file your return this year.
Tina Orem
Sabrina Parys
By Sabrina Parys and  Tina Orem 
Updated
Edited by Chris Hutchison

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Nerdy takeaways
  • First, figure out if you need to file. Most people do, but some don't.

  • Many online tax prep companies can connect you with a tax pro while you're completing your taxes.

  • File your taxes by the deadline even if you can't pay your tax bill. If you avoid filing, you'll end up owing more in penalties.

Even for the most confident first-time filers, doing your taxes can feel daunting. If you’re wondering what options are out there, here’s a six-step cheat sheet on how to do your taxes and how to make tax filing easier.

1. Determine if you need to file taxes

Whether you have to file a tax return this year depends on your income, tax filing status, age and other factors. It also depends on whether someone else can claim you as a tax dependent.

Even if you don’t have to file a tax return, there’s a good reason you might consider doing so anyway: You could qualify for a tax break that could generate a refund. Lower-income taxpayers, for example, may want to look into a refundable credit called the earned income tax credit, and people with dependents below the age of 17 might be able to snag the partially refundable child tax credit

Give tax filing some serious consideration if:

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2. Take note of tax deadlines and dates

When can I start filing my taxes?

The IRS opened for business on Jan. 29, 2024

. This is the day the agency began accepting and processing tax returns for the 2023 tax year. Generally, most tax software programs can help you prepare your files in advance of the opening date, which means you can be first in line when the queue opens.

The IRS Free File program, for example, which gives qualified taxpayers access to free brand-name tax software, opened on Jan. 12.

Do you file 2023 taxes in 2024?

Yes. The purpose of the 2024 tax filing season is to file taxes for the 2023 tax year.

When do you need to file taxes in 2024?

The tax filing deadline is April 15, 2024. If you request an extension by tax day, your tax return due date is pushed to Oct. 15, 2024

. Tax extensions give you more time to file your return, not pay your taxes. Even with a tax extension, your tax bill is still due on April 15.

What happens if you don't file your taxes?

If you owe taxes and don't file, there will be consequences in the form of fees and penalties. The IRS levies a failure-to-file penalty, as well as a late-payment penalty — and it charges interest. If you're due a refund, you won't necessarily get penalized, but you still must file if you have an obligation to do so.

3. Decide how to file your taxes

There are three main ways to file taxes:

  • Fill out IRS Form 1040 by hand and mail it (not recommended),

  • File taxes online using tax software, or

  • Hire a human tax preparer to do the work of tax filing.

File taxes online with tax software

If you’ve used tax software in the past, you already know how to do taxes online: once you log in, the program will ask you questions about your tax life, finances and income in order to fill out the forms you'll need to submit to the IRS.

If you make below a certain amount, consider checking out the IRS Free File program, which can get you free online tax preparation software from several tax-prep companies, including major brands. For the 2024 filing season, the income threshold to qualify for Free File is $79,000.

If you're not eligible for Free File, there's still a world of tax software to choose from. Pricing can depend on the complexity of your return or the amount of support you need. Many major tax software providers offer access to human preparers or tax help, too. TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxAct and TaxSlayer, for example, all include software packages or support options that come with on-demand, on-screen or online access to human tax pros who can answer questions, review your return and even file taxes online for you.

Hire and work with a tax preparer or another tax pro

As your financial life gets more complex, or if you just want to save yourself time, you might wonder if you should get someone to prepare and help file your taxes. If you have a business or a healthy side gig, for example, you might consider working with a CPA. If you just want help understanding all of the forms, you also might seek out professional guidance from a tax preparer.

If you don't want to meet in person with a tax preparer, there’s a way to file taxes without leaving the house. A secure portal lets you share documents electronically with a tax preparer. Typically, the preparer will email you a link to the portal, you’ll set up a password, and then you can upload pictures or PDFs of your tax documents.

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4. Understand how your taxes are determined

The government decides how much tax you owe by dividing your taxable income into chunks — also known as tax brackets — and each chunk gets taxed at the corresponding tax rate. The beauty of this is that no matter which bracket you’re in, you won’t pay that tax rate on your entire income.

» Need to back up? How tax returns work

The progressive tax system in the United States means that people with higher taxable incomes are subject to higher federal income tax rates, and people with lower taxable incomes are subject to lower federal income tax rates.

But don't forget that federal income taxes are just a piece of the tax pie. Most states have income taxes, too, and how those work usually depends on where you live and your residency status. For example, some states follow a progressive system much like the federal government, while others tax income at a flat rate. A small handful of states, such as Alaska and Wyoming, don't have a state income tax.

» Dive deeper:

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5. Gather tax filing information

You’ll need to do this whether you’re hiring a tax preparer or doing the tax filing yourself. The goal is to gather proof of income, expenses that might be tax-deductible or win you a tax credit, and evidence of taxes you already paid throughout the year. Our tax prep checklist has more guidance, but here’s a short version of what to round up:

  • Social Security numbers for yourself, as well as for your spouse and dependents, if any.

  • W-2 form, which tells how much you earned in the past year and how much you already paid in taxes. (If you had more than one job, you might have more than one W-2.)

  • 1099 forms, which are a record that some entity or person — not your employer — gave or paid you money.

  • Retirement account contributions.

  • Property taxes and mortgage interest.

  • State and local taxes you paid.

  • Educational expenses.

  • Last year’s federal and state tax returns.

6. Settle up with the IRS

If you owe taxes

  • There are plenty of ways to send money to the IRS. Electronic payments, wire transfers, debit and credit cards, checks and even cash are among your options.

  • If you can’t pay your taxes all at once, an option might be an IRS payment plan, which is an agreement you make directly with the agency to pay your federal tax bill over a certain amount of time. There are two kinds of IRS payment plans: short term and long term. Either way, typically you’ll make monthly payments to settle what you owe.

If you’re getting a tax refund

There are a few things you can do to make sure your money hits your bank account as quickly as possible:

  • Avoid filing your tax return on paper. The IRS can take four weeks or more to process paper returns

    . When you file taxes online, on the other hand, your return should be processed in about three weeks. State tax filing authorities also accept electronic tax returns, which means you may be able to get your state tax refund faster, too.

  • Have your refund sent by direct deposit. When you file taxes, you can have the IRS deposit your refund directly into your bank account instead of mailing a paper check.

  • Track your refund. You can track the status of your IRS refund and your state refund online.

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