We, a proud nation of procrastinators, are mere days away from April 15, a.k.a. Tax Day, a.k.a. America's collective annual anxiety attack — but you can avoid the last-minute panic and long lines at the post office by filing your taxes online today. It's true, you could put a chic French "Fin" at the end of your 2015 tax story THIS. VERY. NIGHT. All you need are your tax documents, laptop, and an Internet connection... and probably some sort of merlot. So stop hyperventilating into that paper bag, and get those taxes done already!
Seriously though, what is it about the dreaded t-word that sends normally-sane people into a tailspin? I once went three years without filing my taxes (I'm all caught up now, thank you very much), because tallying my deductions to offset my 1099 income was too overwhelming. The thing is, I'd have barely owed anything if I would have filed within a reasonable timeframe, but since I waited so long, the interest wound up taking a huge bite out of my would-be refund the year I finally got it together — not to mention all the time I spent worrying before I actually got them done.
So don't be like me... or famous tax-evader Adolf Hitler. Learn from our mistakes. Doing your taxes online is as easy as 1, 2, 3, so grab that bottle of wine, because I'm about to show you how!
1. Gather your tax docs
Round up any tax documents that may be pertinent: W-2, 1099s, 1098-Es for student loan interest — basically anything tax-related you've received in the mail since the new year. Double-check to make sure you're not missing anything, especially if you've moved since the beginning of 2014. Review the documents to make sure your name, the year, and the amount you were paid are accurate. If you find any errors, contact the issuing company immediately for a corrected version.
Depending on your employment situation or if you're taking a special deduction like moving expenses, you'll need evidence of your expenses — most likely receipts. Bank statements can be helpful, too. Tip for next year: Keeping an ongoing envelope or shoebox of this type of documentation throughout the year can save lots of last-minute rutting around — and anxiety — come tax time.
2. Pick your provider
Do you you make $60K or less? Because if so, you're eligible for a free federal tax return through the IRS's Free File program. They make it easy peasy, too! Just enter your age, estimated adjusted gross income, state of residence, Earned Income Tax Credit eligibity, and military status into the Help Me Find Free File Software wizard (catchy title, huh?) to figure out which products are the best fit for your situation. Or you can peruse the complete Free File provider list to make your selection. Make sure to read all the provider info carefully — there are differences. For instance, some offer free state returns, whereas others charge for that.
If you happen to make over $60,000, don't fret — you'll still be able to e-file using commercial tax software, it just won't be free. There are a number of available options on the market, including the big names in tax prep that you're probably already familiar with: HR Block, Jackson Hewitt, TurboTax, and many others.
3. Enter your info and submit
Now all you have to do is enter all the information from your tax documents into the software, and let it work its magic. All the major tax prep software providers have their version of a built-in error check to help you avoid basic errors in your return — like entering your social security number incorrectly or misspelling your name. And as always, make sure you protect yourself online.
There you have it... now all you have to do is press submit!
And if all this has got you stressing out because you don't have enough time or mental energy, then you can either:
- File an extension, and complete your taxes at a more convenient time before October 15. This may be a better option if you're just temporarily busy and will be able to set aside some dedicated tax time in the foreseeable future. Just remember, even if you do file an extension, you still owe whatever taxes are due on April 15. If you hold off on making that payment until you file your extension, your outstanding balance will actually go up due to the accrued interested.
- Or hit up your local authorized e-file provider and let a professional take care of it for you. And as we learned from my example, the cost of paying a tax preparer will look like pocket change compared to the mountain of interest you're likely to pay if you fail to file. Plus, the IRS makes finding a provider a cinch — just enter your zip code, and find the nearest e-file providers in your area.
Happy handlin' your tax bidness like a boss! I guarantee that come April 15, when all the last-minute suckers are just getting started, you'll be glad you did. Now go on and finish the rest of that merlot — you earned it.