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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.
Tax filing can be daunting. So if you’re wondering how to file taxes, here’s a cheat sheet on how to do your taxes and how to make tax filing easier.
1. Determine if you need to file
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 parents of children below the age of 17 might be able to snag the partially refundable child tax credit. So give tax filing some serious consideration if:
When can I start filing taxes?
Typically in mid-January. The 2023 tax filing season started Jan. 23, 2023. This was the date the IRS began accepting income tax returns.
Do you file 2022 taxes in 2023?
Yes. The purpose of the 2023 tax filing season is to file taxes for the 2022 tax year.
When are taxes due in 2023?
The tax filing deadline was April 18, 2023. If you requested an extension, your tax return due date was pushed out to Oct. 16, 2023. Tax extensions give you more time to file your return, not pay your taxes. Even with a tax extension, your tax bill was still due on April 18.
What happens if you don't file your taxes?
2. Choose how to file taxes
There are three main ways to file taxes: fill out IRS Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR 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.
a. File taxes online with tax software
If you’ve used tax software in the past, you already know how to do 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.
» Ready to get started? See our picks for the year's best tax filing software
The IRS Free File program can get you free online tax preparation software from several tax-prep companies, including major brands. To qualify for Free File, your adjusted gross income must have been $73,000 or less in 2022. The IRS also offers all taxpayers, regardless of income, access to fillable tax forms that can be submitted electronically for free.
» Dive deeper: Explore other options for free tax filing
b. Hire and work with a tax preparer
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 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.
» Vetting a tax preparer: How to find a reputable tax preparer near you
3. 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.
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.
» Need to back up? How tax returns work
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4. 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.
Last year’s federal and state tax returns.
5. 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. (Here are 10 ways to make an IRS payment.)
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 typically takes six to eight weeks to process paper returns, but given the agency's ongoing backlog, you could be looking at a longer timeframe. 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 sending a paper check. That cuts the time in waiting for the mail.
Track your refund. You can track the status of your IRS refund and your state refund online.