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.
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.
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.
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.
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