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

February 10 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
File Form 941 for the fourth quarter of 2017. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter timely, properly, and in full.

February 10 — Certain small employers
File Form 944 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2017. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10 — Farm employers
File Form 943 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2017. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10 — Federal unemployment tax
File Form 940 for 2017. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

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

February 15 — All businesses
Give annual information statements to recipients of certain payments you made during 2017 Details

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

February 15 — All employers
Begin withholding income tax from the pay of any employee who claimed exemption from withholding in 2017, but did not give you Form W4 to continue the exemption this year.

February 15 — Individuals
If you claimed exemption from income tax withholding last year on the Form W-4, you must file a new Form W-04 by this date to continue your exemption for another year Details

February 19 — Everyone
Federal Holiday (Washington's Birthday) Details

February 28 — All businesses
File information returns (for example, Forms 1099) for certain payments you made during 2017.

February 28 — Payers of gambling winnings.
File Form 1096 along with Copy A of all the Forms W2G you issued for 2017. If you file Forms W2G electronically, your due date for filing them with the IRS will be extended to 03-31. The due date for giving the recipient these forms remains 01-31.

February 28 — All employers
File Form W3, Transmittal of Wage and Tax Statements, along with Copy A of all the Forms W2 you issued for 2017. If you file Forms W2 electronically, your due date for filing them with the SSA will be extended to 03-31. The due date for giving the recipient these forms remains 01-31.

February 28 — Large food and beverage establishment employers
File Form 8027, Employer's Annual Information Return of Tip Income and Allocated Tips. Use Form 8027T, Transmittal of Employer's Annual Information Return of Tip Income and Allocated Tips, to summarize and transmit Forms 8027 if you have more than one establishment. If you file Forms 8027 electronically, your due date for filing them with the IRS will be extended to 03-31.

View More Tax Dates