If this is your first time filing a tax return, there are a few things you should keep in mind:
Talk to your parents. Even if you have earned income, your parents may still be able to claim you as a dependent. Depending on your circumstances, you may need to decide whether they will claim you or you will claim yourself.
Determine if you need to file. See the charts starting on page 8 of the IRS Instructions for Form 1040 and 1040-SR to determine whether you need to file a return. Even if you don't have to file, it may be beneficial to do so. If you had federal taxes withheld from your paycheck, you could get a refund.
Know your filing deadlines. The federal filing deadline for 2020 tax returns is April 15, 2021. If you need to file a state return, the deadline may be different from the federal due date. See State Return Due Dates for more specific information.
Have important tax documents and information on hand. You must report all income, including tips. If you are an employee, you should receive Form W-2 Wage and Tax Statement containing your income and withholding. You may receive different forms for other types of income you need to report on your return.
You will also need to enter identifying information and income for your spouse or dependents, if applicable. Any names and social security numbers (SSNs) you enter should match those on file with the Social Security Administration. If necessary, gather this information before starting your return.
If you are a college student, you should also locate information related to your tuition payments, loan payments, and scholarships. You may qualify for an education credit or deduction that lowers your taxes. If you receive Form 1098-T Tuition Statement or Form 1098-E Student Loan Interest Statement reporting your tuition or loan interest paid, you will want to enter that information in your return.
If you would like to electronically pay tax due or have your refund deposited in your bank account, you will need to enter credit card or banking information. Make sure you have access to this information when you start your return.
Authenticate your e-filed return when prompted. In order to verify your identity, the IRS asks for your prior year 2019 adjusted gross income (AGI) or self-select PIN. For a first time filer, this may be confusing. However, you can simply check I am a first-time filer or I did NOT file a 2019 tax return on the screen titled E-Filing - Prior Year Information. Do not ignore this filing step!
If you are married filing jointly and only one spouse filed a 2019 return, you should enter the prior year 2019 AGI for that spouse and zero (0) for the spouse who has not filed before. See AGI, Self Select PIN, and Electronic Authentication for more information.
Note that any link in the information above is updated each year automatically and will take you to the most recent version of the document at the time it is accessed.