Create a System for Your Documentation
We often don't collect the necessary paperwork until tax season. But keeping track of deductions, income, and expenses all year-long will save you time in a pinch. By now, you should have your W-2 form or 1099 forms, since your employer was required to mail these by January 31. Before seeing an accountant –- or filing your taxes online -– check to ensure that you’ve received all of your relevant statements regarding bank interest, student loans, mortgages, and charitable contributions. The sooner you have these, the sooner you're ready to file (and receive your refund). If you've lost a document, don't worry. Starting after February 15th, you can contact the IRS for assistance at 1-800-829-1040.
Transfer Digital Copies
In addition to paper copies, consider keeping digital copies. If you file with Turbo Tax or H&R Block, you can scan and upload your W-2s from your smart phone to the company server through their free app.
Save Work When Itemizing
It's not worth spending the time to track some categories that simply may not apply to you. For example, childcare expenses, self-employment expenses, and large unreimbursed medical bills are not considered deductible unless they exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income. And while these types of deductions may help boost your return, focus on your income statements -- the W-2, 1099, and 1098 -- these are the basis of your return.
Choose to e-File
According to the IRS, out of the 150 million tax returns filed last year, about 85 percent of those were e-filed. That's because e-filing is processed faster, more accurate, and more convenient when you choose direct deposit. Easy-to-use online programs like Turbo Tax and H&R Block At Home allow you to file both federal and state taxes -- no extra paperwork or guesswork necessary.
Find Free Help
If you qualify, there are free tax return preparation programs to assist you, including the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (offered to people who generally make $54,000 or less, people with disabilities, and those with limited English speaking abilities) as well as the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (offered to those who are 60 years of age and older, specializing in questions regarding retirement and pensions).