A Complete Guide to Filing Taxes

Written by: Jennifer Watkins
08/19/2019

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Taxes are going to be a critical part of your finance strategy no matter what. It’s important to make sure that you understand what you’re doing when it comes to taxes and how they affect your particular situation. Here’s a complete guide to some of the more important parts of tax law.

Tax Software Recommendations and Guide

One of the first and most important things to pay attention to when you’re starting your taxes for the first time is what kind of software you’re going to use to keep everything in order. If you have a very simple tax return, such as you simply worked one official job the whole year and got a normal w-2 for it, then you can use some of the simple and free options out there, such as from e-file.com. These will even work in the case where you work at home, but you may want something more sophisticated if you’re going to be putting a lot of your expenses and everything down there.

One of the cheapest options you can try is called TaxAct. Their program called Protection Plus gives you three full years of audit protection for the year the return is focusing on. This is useful because it’s so cheap and you’ll be protected if you’re worried about something happening in general.

If you want as many customer service options as you can get, another excellent option is the old standby, HR Block. Their packages tend to be more expensive, such as the self-employed option that goes as high as $105 or so, but you get a lot for this amount of money. The full schedules from 1-6 are included in the right version of the program, which isn’t common, for example. The service also offers the “Ask a Tax Pro,” which makes it so that you can get in chat sessions with an expert on taces. There’s a way to share your screen with the pro so that you can show them all of the information that you have and then you can ask them specific questions about any of that data. This options often work on any device from tablet to mobile, PC or whatever else. In some cases, you can even talk to them on the phone if you’d prefer to do that instead, based on the hours of operation that they have.

Many of the pros that you talk to have CPA certification, but it’s true that they don’t all have this.

Other tax software you should consider starts with one of the most popular options on the Internet, namely TurboTax. This one is really recommended because it’s easy for anyone to pick up. It is fairly intuitive, and you can do some complex filing with it if you want. Plus, it also has a free version that lets you handle the EIC, or Earned Income Tax Credit as well as education credits, standard W-2 income and more. If you want more you can upgrade to get more options. One of the biggest options here is for self-employed people where you can add all of your expenses and really get the amount you owe greatly reduced.

Making Your Way Through State and Federal Refunds to Get the Biggest Return

Many of the programs will allow you to go through your taxes and calculate the bill or refund for you, but you can also use simple calculators online to do this if you don’t want to shell out for the full amount for a program. In general, the key will be to fill in your age, income, how many dependents you have, filing status, whether you have IRA or 401K, deductions, and any previous payments.

Again, there are ways to do this yourself but software is your best bet. Many of the programs online can help you make sure you get the right Income Tax so that you get the right refund or bill depending on the situation.

Tax Brackets

Brackets are obviously going to change significantly from year to year, but in general, you have the rate that’s between 0 to $10,000 or so, then it goes up towards 40 thousand for the second, and up from there. You’ll want to make sure that you understand the brackets before filing since they can definitely matter.

Tracking Progress

If you sign up with software service, you can often track the status of your state and federal returns through that software. They will usually tell you right on the page or in the software what the government has said about the status. In general, many of these places, such as Intuit, will even email you about it when the status changes or when there is some sort of update on this status so that you can keep apprised of it. It’s better to file online if you can in most circumstances for this reason since when you file by paper, it takes you even longer to get some kind of response.

Electronic filing claims generally come back in just 3 weeks or so. When you try to do this through the regular mail, it can take twice that time, even as long as 8 weeks. It’s also important to make sure you watch out for refund theft since this can be a serious problem if you’re not careful.

Overall, taxes are a serious matter and worth the time and research you put into them in order to make sure that everything turns out the way that you need it to turn out. Your success here is going to depend largely on your knowledge, but also on any enhancements to this knowledge, such as whatever software you try to use. This software can often boost your abilities if you don’t have a lot of understanding of the tax code for your year


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