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."