Tax Filing 2021: What to Know About How to File Taxes This Year

Here's how to get started if you're learning how to file taxes online or on paper.
Tina OremMar 5, 2021

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Tax filing can be daunting. So if you’re wondering how to file taxes online or on paper in 2021, here’s a cheat sheet on how to do your taxes and how to make tax filing easier.

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

Even if you don’t have to file taxes, you might want to do it anyway: You might qualify for a tax break that could generate a refund. So give tax filing some serious consideration if:

The IRS set the start of tax season as Feb. 12, 2021. That's the date it starts processing returns for the 2020 tax year.

Yes. The purpose of the 2021 tax-filing season is to file taxes for the 2020 tax year.

There are three main ways to file taxes: fill out by hand and mail it (not recommended), use tax software and file taxes online, or hire a human tax preparer to do the work of tax filing.

If you’ve used tax software in the past, you already know how to prepare and file taxes online. Many major tax software providers offer access to human preparers, too.

TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxAct and TaxSlayer, for example, all offer 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.

can get you free online tax preparation software from several tax-prep companies, including major brands. You must have less than $72,000 of to qualify.


While it's never been easier to do your own taxes using software, as your financial life gets more complex you might wonder if you're missing something and should get someone to prepare and help file your taxes. If you have a business or a healthy side gig, or you just want help understanding all of the forms, you might seek out a professional's guidance.

» Find a local tax preparer for free:

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.

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 , you won’t pay that tax rate on your entire income.

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.


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. , but here’s a short version of what to round up:

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

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