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Everyone Who Does Taxes For The First Time Should Know These

Everyone Who Does Taxes For The First Time Should Know These

Like Voldemort from Harry Potter, the word “taxes” should not be The Thing That Must Not Be Named. We should not live in fear of the 15th of April like it’s some plague or judgment day. True, it may feel intimidating the first time you are forced to sit down and complete your taxes on your own. We’ve all been there and, yes, felt your pain.

However, taxes shouldn’t be the bane of your existence. With some planning and premeditation, doing your taxes should be manageable. After all, however you look at it, you will have to file your taxes every year. So do it right and follow these 10 need to know tips to complete your taxes without hyperventilating.

1. Nobody will remind you to do them.

Throughout the year, you should be saving pay stubs, tax returns, and other files and documentation. Let’s face it, filing taxes is not a one and done deal; it’s an ongoing process. Therefore, the government is not going to send you a little friendly reminder letter in the mail like your dentist does for an upcoming appointment. As soon as you begin to receive W2s from your employer, you should being filing your taxes. Don’t wait until the last minute, unless you want to be sweating bullets.

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2. You need to double check everything.

Okay, the truth is, taxes do take a while in order to be completed properly. It requires focus, retrieval of papers and documentation, and reading the directions carefully. At times, the forms may seem a bit repetitive, but make sure you use the examples and directions to help you complete each section. Also, double check everything, especially your name and your math. This not only saves you from a load of extra paperwork, but it will also help ensure that you don’t get flagged for tax fraud.

3. Have your papers organized before you start.

Find a filing and organization system that works for you. Don’t expect to just bring a heap of papers along with you to sift through and have it done in a half hour. Instead, make sure you are keeping your information organized throughout the year to make filing your taxes a lot less stressful. Try using a hanging filing folder system with labeled tabs of all of your paperwork. Or, invest in a filing cabinet or accordion folder system. Just make sure to be consistent. The IRS suggests keeping your records for seven years before discarding any documentation. With all that paperwork, don’t let your files become an unorganized heap.

4. Save some money to file them early.

Set aside money and file early just in case you may owe a lot of money to the IRS. This way, you won’t be blindsided by owing any unexpected large sums. Also, you can save money and get more on your return by filing any charitable contributions and avoid accrued interest on your taxes. Plus, you’ll receive your refund faster. Just make sure you have enough budgeted for these extra costs and money needed if you choose to seek out an accountant or program to file your taxes for you.

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5. Online tax programs don’t know everything.

It’s great to file online through step-by-step programs like TurboTax or TaxAct. Yet, they don’t always know about your individual tax exceptions and needs. Every person is different and you may have some questions that are beyond what the program can provide for you. Save some money and find an accountant who can help you through your unique tax filing. A tax preparer works specifically for the IRS and will cost between $150-$450, depending on your situation. Or, you can use a retail tax company like H&R Block for quick and easy filing. Just make sure you invest your time into finding one that suits your needs. It will be worth it in the long run.

6. Filing jointly is a little easier.

If you are married, filing jointly is a great way to guarantee the largest standard deduction from the IRS each year. You can also qualify for many taxes credits, including the American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning Credit, and the Earned Tax Income Credit. Plus, you only need to submit your taxes once together.

Ultimately, it’s better to file jointly. According to Turbo Tax, “In 2013, married filing separately taxpayers only receive a standard deduction of $6,100 compared to the $12,200 offered to those who filed jointly.” Therefore, if you are married, look to filing jointly to get the best tax breaks.

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7. File as early as possible if you need financial aid.

If you file early, you have the best potential of receiving the maximum amount of financial aid. The IRS makes this easy to do, because there is a link from the FAFSA form to the IRS, meaning you don’t have to provide your tax information by yourself. Be proactive, invest in your future, and get the most out of your education and your tax money.

8. You can submit corrections if you make a mistake.

Remember that we are only human and “to err is human”. So, you flubbed up a number or missed a step in filing your taxes. Something looks off. Don’t freak out; a 1040X file is your saving grace. It’s important to make your corrections rather than wait for the IRS to find them. A simple mistake typically won’t give you a large penalty, but it can cause accrued interest on the correct amount. Just know that it’s okay if you need to make a change.

9. You can write off student loan interest.

You can get a tax break and deduct $2,500 or the amount of interest you paid on your student loans. It’s considered an adjustment to your income, so you don’t have to itemize all of it.

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See what qualifies as a student loan adjustment and enjoy the fact that all of your money spent on your education is to good use and can help with your tax break.

10. You can credit your refund to next year.

Don’t always think that you have to spend your refund cash on anything right away. Instead, use it as an investment and put your money in a separate account in case you owe money next year when filing taxes. Or, you can place this money in a retirement fund and receive more money off next year’s income tax. The choice is yours, just choose responsibly.

Take a deep breath.

When you invest the time in filing your taxes and prepare all year, you really are investing in yourself and your money. If you want something done well, do it right. If you are still unsure about how to approach taxes, a good bet is to spend the money and seek someone who knows what’s best for you and your interests. Don’t be overwhelmed by the “big” 5-letter word; taxes aren’t that scary, as long as you don’t procrastinate.

Featured photo credit: Tax/401(K) 201 via flickr.com

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Kayla Matthews

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Last Updated on July 4, 2019

25 Killer Sites For Free Online Education

25 Killer Sites For Free Online Education

Whether you’re five or ninety five, the internet has a lot to offer. Particularly when the topic is education, the resources on the internet are endless.

Best of all, many high quality sites are completely free. From history to coding, excellent free online education awaits on the following 25 sites.

1. Coursera

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    Coursera is a website that partners with universities and organizations around the world. This brings a wide variety of topics and perspectives to one searchable database.

    Coursera is a powerful tool for free online education, and includes courses from many top universities, museums and trusts. This gives the site an extremely wide range of in-depth courses.

    Coursera is extremely useful if you’re looking to study many different topics, or want courses from different schools and groups.

    2. Khan Academy

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      Partnering with many post secondary schools, Khan Academy offers a useable, well organized interface. Also curating many courses from around the web, Khan Academy offers impressive depth on many different subjects.

      Among the more well known educational sites, Khan Academy is also incredibly useable, which may make it easier to keep learning goals.

      3. Open Culture Online Courses

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        If you are struggling to find exactly the material you are looking for, try Open Culture’s listing of free online education courses. The page highlights 1000 lectures, videos and podcasts from universities around the world. The site features a lot of material found only on universities private sites, all in easy to browse categories. This means you can find hundreds of university courses, without having to visit and search each university’s own site.

        Open Culture’s list features courses from England, Australia, Wales and many state universities around the United States. A very helpful resource for finding many courses in one area of study.

        4. Udemy 

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          Udemy’s free courses are similar in concept to Coursera’s but additionally allows users to build custom courses from lessons.

          Working with many top professors and schools, the site mixes the customizable platform of other sites with a heavy emphasis on top quality content. This is another site however, that mixes free and paid content.

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          5. Academic Earth

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            Another site with courses from many different schools is Academic Earth. Much like the three sites above, Academic Earth brings together top notch courses from many different sources, and focuses on offering a wide variety of subjects.

            Academic Earth lists courses by subject and school, so it might be easier to find what you’re looking for.

            6. edX

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              Another great option for free online education is edX. Also bringing together courses from many different schools, the site has impressive, quality information for everyone. edX covers a great range of topics.

              7. Alison

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                Unlike the previous sites on this lists, Alison is a free education site offering certification in some areas. Alison offers courses mainly in business, technology, and health, but also includes language learning courses.

                It’s a great option if users need certification for their learning as Alison also offers school curriculum courses.

                8. iTunesU Free Courses

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                  A very convenient place for free online education is iTunesU, because it integrates seamlessly with your iPod, or any app-ready Apple mobile device. On iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, users download the iTunesU app.

                  Desktop users can access  iTunesU on the upper right hand corner of the iTunes Store. iTunesU is also convenient because the store is categorized much like iTunes.

                  Users can search learning materials in many different ways, including genre and topic. However, courses are often a mix of free podcasts or videos, and paid content.

                  ITunesU does include courses on a pretty wide scope of topics, but does not integrate with Android, Google or Windows mobile devices.

                  9. Stanford Online

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                    Your hub for all the online offerings from Stanford University, Stanford Online offers self-paced and session based courses. While Coursera features some courses from Stanford, many classes are only available via other hosts. Some courses require iTunes, but most are completed in your web browser.

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                    Stanford Online is a great site for high quality courses, though the topics are somewhat limited compared to sites partnered with more than one school.

                    10. Harvard Extension

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                      Like Stanford Online, Harvard Extension features free online education courses from Harvard only. This is another excellent source for top notch course material, though the course variety is less rich than multi-school sites.

                      Additionally, Harvard Extension allows you to search for courses by professional certificate. This makes it much easier if your online education goal includes certification.

                      11. Open Yale Courses

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                        Open Yale Courses echoes Harvard Extension and Stanford Online, in that it offers only courses from Yale. While the site is similarly limited to topics taught at the school, Open Yale Courses offers a lot of videos of actual campus lectures. The availability of videos makes the site a great option if you’re looking for quality courses, but learn better by watching than by reading.

                        12. UC Berkeley Class Central

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                          Much like the other schools on this list, UC Berkeley has a variety of free online education options. The school has slightly fewer courses than the schools above, but includes some supplementary lectures, webcasts and RSS Feeds, making it easy to keep up with the topics you choose.

                          13. MIT OpenCourseWare

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                            Similarly, MIT offers a variety of free courses. The school has a comparable number of courses to the schools above, plus includes very in-depth course materials on the subjects available. MIT also offers free RSS feeds, a convenient way to continue learning.

                            14. Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative

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                              Carnegie Mellon’s free online education site is comparable with the other school’s on this list, however, Open Learning Initiative also covers a smaller range of topics. But for the topics that are covered impressive, in-depth material is available.

                              15. Codecademy

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                                Codecademy is a website dedicated specifically to teaching coding. Where other coding sites follow an example/practice session workflow, Codecademy includes a live practice window. This means you can practice coding while still viewing the lesson material.

                                The courses at Codecademy are well written and easy to follow and the website is organized very nicely. Codecademy features a centralized dashboard where you can monitor your progress, plus organizes lessons into complete modules. This lets you learn an entire language without needing to pick the next course manually.

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                                16. Code

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                                  Code is another website focused on coding and app writing. A site with high quality courses, Code also features learning options for kids.

                                  In addition to kid friendly courses, Code offers free online education classes on a wide variety of technology topics. These classes include app writing, robotics and Javascript.

                                  Most of the courses are also geared in a such a way that they can be useful in a classroom setting. This makes Code a great resource for harder to find coding topics, as well as various learning settings.

                                  17. University of London Podcasts

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                                    The podcast page on the University of London website is another great source for free education. While the courses are limited to podcasts, the site features podcasts from it’s own campus, as well as eleven universities in and around London. This gives learners a wide base of topics and lectures, but still ensures in-depth material.

                                    18. University of Oxford Podcasts

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                                      Similar to the University of London, the University of Oxford features many different podcasts. Most are public lecture series or lectures from visiting professors, with several different recordings available.

                                      The advantage to this particular site is that podcasts are organized into series, making it easy to subscribe to multiple lectures on one topic. Another good site for thoroughly in-depth lectures.

                                      19. BBC Podcasts

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                                        For the more casual learner, the BBC offers a wide variety of podcasts on many different topics. Most podcasts are updated weekly, and focus on everything from finance, to sports, to current events.

                                        Through the World Service line of podcasts, there are also many in different languages. The focus of these podcasts are less in-depth and theory based, which may be more accessible to the average person.

                                        20. TED-Ed

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                                          Another great destination for more general learning is TED-Ed. From the same people that brought you the all encompassing, motivational web series, comes a site chocked full of educational videos. Most include impressive animation, and all are ten minutes long or less.

                                          Not only is TED-Ed an excellent site for the curious, it also includes supplemental materials and quizzes on the videos. This makes the site extremely useful in formal education settings, as well as in entertaining ways to brush up on new discoveries and topics.

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                                          21. LessonPaths

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                                            LessonPaths is another great tool for those looking for a more usable and convenient way to access learning material. On this site, users create link playlists of their favorite learning materials from other sites. Users then rank these collections, making it easy to find many different high quality, accessible sources on a given topic.

                                            22. Memrise

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                                              Another impressive free online education site offering ease of use and convenience is Memrise. Available both on desktop and as an app, Memrise is a particularly powerful tool if you are studying a language. The site encompasses many other topics as well, though some of the course material is user generated content.

                                              Part of what makes Memrise special is their integration of games into the learning materials, mixing learning with entertainment.

                                              23. National Geographic Kids

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                                                The kids site for National Geographic is another site that makes free online education applicable for younger users. For those looking for kid friendly education, a large variety of games, puzzles, videos and photos keeps kids interested on this site.

                                                National Geographic Kids doesn’t organize learning into courses, making materials available by topic and medium instead. This makes National Geographic Kids a good option for those looking for a more casual learning environment.

                                                24. Fun Brain

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                                                  Fun Brain is another good option for kids who want to learn online, but focuses on games and fun puzzles. Particularly focused on math and reading, Fun Brain’s game based approach can be valuable if the child in question struggles to pay attention.

                                                  Fun Brain offers rewards and challenges as well, and is another site aimed at a casual learning experience for kids K-8.

                                                  25. Whyville

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                                                    Similar to the sites for kids free online education is Whyville a destination for preteen online learning. The site includes a variety of social features, with a focus on learning materials geared for young teens.

                                                    Whyville also mixes in educational games, to make the site a well rounded option for kids too old for simple games, but too young for heavy reading based material.

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                                                    Featured photo credit: Dai KE via unsplash.com

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