Doing your own taxes?

More than 43.6 million Americans prepared and e-filed their own income tax returns in 2013, up 4 percent from the year before, according to the IRS. In addition to being more affordable than a storefront or accountant, online and mobile solutions have made doing your own taxes exceptionally easy and fast.

“Consumers now have everything for filing their own tax returns right at their fingertips,” says TaxAct spokesperson Jessi Dolmage.

The programs ask simple questions, covering tax law changes and maximizing your credits and deductions. After e-filing, you can be notified when your return is accepted by the IRS, and solutions like TaxAct help you check the status of your federal refund.

The process is already easy and fast when doing your taxes online or with a mobile app, but to make it even more of a cinch, follow these tips:

  1. Gather and organize your tax documents beforehand, including a copy of last year's return.
  2. Don't wait until the last minute. Rushing often leads to errors.
  3. Do an apples-to-apples comparison of do-it-yourself tax solutions. Some require you to upgrade if your return requires additional tax forms. You can avoid the gimmicks with TaxAct Free Federal since it includes all e-fileable forms for simple and complicated returns.
  4. The Affordable Care Act will have little to no impact on most Americans' taxes this year, but you may need to report information about your health care costs on your return. The amount you and your employer contribute to your employer-sponsored health coverage will be on your Form W-2 in Box 12, with Code DD. Although you must report the amount on your return, it does not impact the amount of tax you might owe. It's there simply to help you compare costs of coverage. Just enter the amount when prompted by your tax solution.
  5. E-file your return and choose direct deposit for the fastest possible refund. Unlike paper returns, e-filing allows you to know when your return has been processed by the IRS.
  6. Your tax program is like having an accountant at your side. The interview walks you through all the tax law changes, credits and deductions, but here's a peek at a few of the key tax breaks available on returns due April 15, 2014:
    • American Opportunity Credit - This is worth up to $2,500 per student for the first four years of college costs in a degree or certificate program. Costs may include tuition, fees and books. You also may be eligible to receive up to 40 percent ($1,000) as a refund.
    • Tuition and fees deduction - If you, your spouse or your dependent are enrolled in college, you may be able to deduct tuition, even if you don't itemize deductions. You generally take this deduction if you don't qualify for an education credit or other tax break for the same expenses.
    • Educator expenses deduction - Elementary and secondary educators can deduct up to $250 in related job expenses for books, supplies, computer equipment, other equipment and supplementary materials used in the classroom. Unlike most employee expenses, educator expenses are not reduced by 2 percent of your adjusted gross income.
    • Child and Dependent Care Credit - The maximum amount for the credit is now $3,000 if you have one child or $6,000 if you have two or more children. The children or dependents must be younger than 13 and childcare must be needed because parents work or attend school.
    • Child Tax Credit - The now permanent credit is $1,000 per child younger than 17. This credit may be claimed in addition to the Child and Dependent Care Credit.
    • Adoption credit - If you adopted in 2013, you may qualify for a credit up to $12,970 of your adoption expenses, including fees, court costs, attorney fees, traveling expense and other expenses directly related to and for the principal purpose of adopting an eligible child. If your employer provides adoption benefits, you may also be able to exclude up to the same amount from your income. Both a credit and exclusion may be claimed for the same adoption, but not for the same expense.
    • Deduction for mortgage insurance premiums - Also known as private mortgage insurance (PMI), you may be able to deduct mortgage insurance premiums as mortgage interest.
    • State and local sales tax deduction - For 2013, you can still deduct state and local sales taxes.

Learn more about these tax benefits at www.irs.gov and www.TaxAct.com/taxinfo. File your federal taxes with TaxAct at www.TaxAct.com.

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Upcoming Tax Dates

January 1 — Everyone
Federal Holiday (New Year's Day) Details

January 10 — Employees who work for tips
If you received $20 or more in tips during December, report them to your employer Details

January 15 — Individuals
Make a payment of your estimated tax for 2018 if you did not pay your income tax for the year through withholding (or did not pay in enough tax that way). Use Form 1040-ES Details

January 15 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in December 2018

January 15 — Farmers & fishermen
Pay your estimated tax for 2018 using Form 1040-ES Details

January 21 — Everyone
Federal Holiday (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) Details

January 31 — All Employers
Give your employees their copies of Form W2 for 2018. If an employee agreed to receive Form W2 electronically, have it posted on a website and notify the employee of the posting.

January 31 — Individuals who must make estimated tax payments
If you did not pay your last installment of estimated tax by January 15, you may choose (but are not required) to file your income tax return (Form 1040) for 2017 by January 31. Filing your return and paying any tax due by January 31 prevents any penalty for late payment of the last installment. If you cannot file and pay your tax by January 31, file and pay your tax by April 15.

January 31 — Payers of gambling winnings
If you either paid reportable gambling winnings or withheld income tax from gambling winnings, give the winners their copies of Form W2G.

January 31 — Social Security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
File Form 941 for the fourth quarter of 2018. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the quarter timely, properly, and in full, you have until 02-10 to file the return.

January 31 — Certain small employers
File Form 944 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2018. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules. If your tax liability is $2,500 or more for 2018 but less than $2,500 for the fourth quarter, deposit any undeposited tax or pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full, you have until February 10 to file the return.

January 31 — Farm employers
File Form 943 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2018. Deposit or pay any undeposited tax under the accuracy of deposit rules. If your tax liability is less than $2,500, you can pay it in full with a timely filed return. If you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full, you have until February 10 to file the return.

January 31 — Federal unemployment tax
File Form 940 for 2018. If your undeposited tax is $500 or less, you can either pay it with your return or deposit it. If it is more than $500, you must deposit it. However, if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full, you have until February 10 to file the return.

January 31 — All businesses
Give annual information statements to recipients of certain payments you made during 2018 Details

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