Changes to know before filing

Unless you majored in accounting, the thought of filing your own income tax return may evoke feelings similar to your first job interview.

Though understandable, this is an unfounded fear, given the simple taxes most individuals have in their early to mid-20s and the easy digital tax programs available.

"All you need to file your own tax return is a little self-confidence, the desire to get your maximum refund, and a computer or mobile device," says TaxAct Spokesperson Jessi Dolmage. "You're well qualified to do your taxes because you're the expert of your finances."

With the affordable and even free DIY tax programs, it's like having an expert personally guiding you. You're asked straightforward, simple questions about your income and financial situation. Meanwhile, the programs determine which tax deductions and tax credits you qualify for while completing the necessary math and tax forms.

The top solutions offer several means of tax and technical help if you need it, including robust help within the application or on the website, and one-on-one help via email, chat and phone.

If you're the curious type who wants to better understand taxes (after all, they will impact your personal finances for the rest of your life), DIY tax programs have plenty of easy-to-understand explanations and tips if you want them. Some even offer planning and guidance for next year's tax return.

The interfaces of these DIY tax programs use the sophistication and technology of other secure Web and mobile applications, carefully designed to be extremely easy to use, intuitive and fast.

Follow these simple tips to successfully file your taxes for the first time and every year after that.

First, don't procrastinate. Waiting until the last minute causes undue stress, and rushing increases potential for typos and overlooked information. While you can do your taxes in one fell swoop, it's unnecessary. Tax programs save as you go, so you can stop and finish at your leisure. You may reap benefits from starting early - as soon as October (when TaxAct releases its solutions) - because tax programs point out potential savings requiring action before Dec. 31 or April 15.

Second, gather all your tax forms and documents before starting your return, including:

  • Form W-2 from your employer (you should receive by Jan. 31)
  • Form 1099s if you're self-employed or a contractor
  • Form 1098-E from your lender if you've paid student loan interest (even if you don't receive this form, you can still deduct interest paid).
  • Form 1098-T for tuition paid and scholarships or grants received
  • Statements for retirement savings accounts
  • Receipts for charitable donations

After filing, keep these papers or make electronic copies to save with a copy of your return.

Finally, carefully compare top DIY tax products before choosing one. Read expert and user reviews. Look at the situations and tax forms each includes, as some require you to upgrade for certain forms. If you have to file a state return, compare prices. Using a mobile filing app? Choose one that also provides access to your data on a browser for convenience and peace of mind in case you lose your smartphone or tablet.

Dolmage offers another tip for tax refunds: "To avoid delays, e-file your return and have your refund direct deposited into your bank account."

For more tax tips and filing information, visit www.irs.gov. Get a tax checklist and file your federal return on your computer, tablet or phone at www.TaxAct.com.

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Upcoming Tax Dates

April 10 — Employees who work for tips
If you received $20 or more in tips during March, report them to your employer. You can use Form 4070.

April 15 — Individuals *2017 Filing Deadline: 04-17, 2018*
File a 2017 income tax return (Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ) and pay any tax due. If you want an automatic 6 month extension of time to file the return, file Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. For more information, see Form 4868. Then, file Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ by 10-15.

April 15 — Corporations *2017 Filing Deadline: 04-17, 2018*
File a 2017 calendar year income tax return (Form 1120) and pay any tax due. Details

April 15 — Individuals
If you are not paying your 2018 income tax through withholding (or will not pay in enough tax during the year that way), pay the first installment of your 2018 estimated tax. Use Form 1040ES.

April 15 — Household Employers
If you paid cash wages of $2,000 or more in 2017 to a household employee, you must file Schedule H Details

April 15 — Corporations
Deposit the first installment of estimated income tax for 2017 Details

April 15 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in March.

April 15 — Household employers
If you paid cash wages of $$2,000 or more in 2017 to a household employee, you must file Schedule H (Form 1040). If you are required to file a federal income tax return (Form 1040), file Schedule H (Form 1040) with the return and report any household employment taxes. Report any federal unemployment (FUTA) tax on Schedule H (Form 1040) if you paid total cash wages of $1,000 or more in any calendar quarter of 2016 or 2017 to household employees. Also, report any income tax you withheld for your household employees.

April 30 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
File Form 941 for the first 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 05-10 to file the return.

April 30 — Federal unemployment tax.
Deposit the tax owed through 03-if more than $500.

View More Tax Dates