Instead of your mailbox being bombarded with holiday cards and presents, Uncle Sam has been dropping by in the form of W2′s and more versions of 1099′s than you thought could possibly exist. Yes, it’s tax season: you dread it, can’t stand it, and are seriously coming down with tax fever. Here’s what to look for in 2013 to get the most out of your taxes AND maintain your sanity.
1. File early: Guess what—if you haven’t filed your taxes yet, you’re late. Just kidding, you’re not late, but you are behind the ball. The IRS began accepting individual returns on January 30, and some people have already gotten their refunds back. With e-filing and direct deposit, it’s faster than ever to get from filing to accepting that big ol’ check—and you can track the whole process online with the “Where’s My Refund?” tool here.
BUT—there’s always a but—there are several forms that will require more time to file, and the IRS hopes to begin accepting tax returns including these forms between late February and into March. These forms include one for Residential Energy Credits, one for General Business Credit, and more, so check out the full listing on the IRS website to see if any apply to you.
2. Turbo Tax: Because you can. If you’re single and not claiming any dependents, filing your federal taxes (1040EZ) with TurboTax is simple, and won’t cost a thing. You have to pay a small fee for filing your state taxes, but it’s well worth it, especially since free e-file is included (and you can pay the fee using part of your refund, so there’s literally no need for a credit card in sight!). With it’s step-by-step process and easy access to support you can’t get stuck. Bonus: Have you filed with TurboTax before? Well, the system remembers all filings from years past, and since a lot of the information rolls over, just log in again this year and your taxes will be a snap.
3. Get organized: As your tax forms pile in the mail or become accessible online start saving them to a file on your computer. Remember, if you have a savings or checking account that didn’t bear more than $10, a form might not have been generated (always check with your banking institution if you’re not sure). Unless you’ve opened a new bank account, retirement vehicle, or stock account you should have the same forms as last year. Using your prior year tax return serves as a great benchmark. New to filing? Make a list of all jobs, bank accounts, stocks traded/held (1099-INT forms), properties, and anything you make payments on (mortgage, student loans, extensive doctors bills, etc.). If you still feel like something’s missing call H&R Block or use TurboTax’s free live tax advice to go over these forms and have them ask you a couple of questions to determine if you’re including everything.
4. Student loans are your friend: You heard right: something good can come from your student loan payments. If you’re paying down student loans, you’re usually paying off interest which is tax deductible. Tax deductible is a fancy way of saying it helps reduce the amount of money that Uncle Sam takes a percentage of. So, the less money you claim the less money in taxes you pay. Remember: reducing your tax liability is a good thing.
5. To itemize or not to itemize: That is the question. Here is the answer: don’t. Unless you own multiple properties, contribute a large chunk of change to charities, and/or have medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of your AGI (Adjust Gross Income), go standard and don’t look back. By the way, AGI isn’t a bad thing. It’s simply your annual income less applicable expenses — just another way to reduce your taxable income! For example, your 401k or IRA contributions are not included in your AGI.
6. There’s power in numbers. They say two heads are better than one. And we always love an excuse to throw a party. Gather your gal pals and set out a block of time to do your taxes. Call each other if you have questions and help each other out. Agree on a date and time to be finished — hey, maybe even set up a Facebook invite — then break open the bubbly, dance to your favorite tunes, and scheme of all the ways you’re going to spend — err, we mean save — that reimbursement check.