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Whether you hire a professional or do it yourself, you need certain information and documentation to file your tax return. Here’s a tax prep checklist most taxpayers might need to complete the job.
Let’s start with the obvious items on any tax prep checklist.
Last year’s taxes. Both your federal and — if applicable — state return. These aren’t strictly necessary, but they’re good refreshers of what you filed last year and the documents you used. Plus, if you're using tax software to file, many providers can upload your prior-year return to save you time from manually keying in your information.
IP PIN. If you, your spouse or a dependent have been issued an identity protection PIN by this IRS, you'll likely need to have this handy as well.
Bank account numbers. If you're opting to receive a refund or pay your tax bill directly through your bank account, be prepared to provide your tax pro or software with those routing and account numbers.
» Need to back up? How tax returns work
Gather all the documents that confirm the money you received during the previous year.
W-2 forms. Employers must issue or mailyour W-2 by Jan. 31, so keep an eye on your mailboxes, both physical and electronic.
1099 forms. 1099s are informational records that detail additional income you received throughout the year. There are many types of 1099 forms and each ends with a different suffix, depending on the type of payment you received. You should expect to receive these Jan. 31 through mid-February. Common 1099s include:
» MORE: Not sure what tax bracket you’re in? Review this rundown on federal tax brackets.
Deductions help reduce your taxable income, which generally means a lower tax bill. The key to claiming deductions is documentation — not only can it protect you if you’re ever audited, but it can also cut your tax bill by helping you remember what to claim. Gathering those records may take time, but it can pay off, says Norm Blatner, a CPA at Blatner & Mineo in Buffalo, New York.
Here’s a rundown of some popular tax deductions. Make sure you have documentation for each before you file:
Retirement account contributions. You can deduct contributions to a traditional IRA or self-employed retirement account. Just be sure to stay within the contribution limits and rules.
Educational expenses. Students can claim a deduction for tuition and fees they paid, as well as for interest paid on a student loan. The IRS won’t accept your deduction claim without Form 1098-T, which shows your education transactions. Form 1098-E has details on your student loan.
Medical bills. Medical costs could provide tax savings, but only if they total more than 7.5% of adjusted gross income for most taxpayers.
Property taxes and mortgage interest. If your mortgage payment includes an amount escrowed for property taxes, that will be included on the Form 1098 your lender sends you. That document will also show how much home loan interest you can claim on Schedule A.
Charitable donations. To ensure your generosity pays off at tax time, keep your receipts for charitable donations. The IRS could disallow your claim if you don’t have verification.
Classroom expenses. If you’re a school teacher or other eligible educator, you can deduct up to $300 spent on classroom supplies ($600 if both spouses are educators filing jointly).
State and local taxes. You can deduct various other taxes, including either state and local income tax or sales taxes (up to $10,000, including property taxes). You don’t need receipts for the sales tax; the IRS provides tables with average amounts you can claim. The tax on a major purchase, however, can be added to the table amount, so keep those receipts.
Note that state income taxes paid should be on your W-2, but remember to add any state estimated taxes you paid during the year.
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Next on the tax prep checklist are tax credits, which are deductions’ more valuable cousins: They provide dollar-for-dollar cuts in any tax you owe. But as with deductions, you need documentation to claim them. Here are some popular tax credits:
American opportunity and lifetime learning credits. These education-related credits can save you quite a bit of money. As with the tuition and fees deduction, Form 1098-T is required to claim either.
Child tax credit. The standard child tax credit is worth up to $2,000 per child for tax year 2023. If you added to your family through adoption, you might be eligible for additional tax credits.
Most of us have income taxes withheld from our paychecks to cover our tax liabilities; that amount is on our W-2 forms. But if you made federal estimated tax payments during the year, have this amount handy, too.
This tax prep checklist covers preparation issues common to most filers, but taxes are different for each of us. Be prepared to tailor the tax prep checklist to your situation.
Need some help getting started? Here are some tax-filing resources to review: