The IRS makes it easy to fill out your own tax return using Form 1040 – just follow the step-by-step instructions and you're good to go. If you have a copy of the annual booklet that comes with the form, you'll find even more helpful information on how to fill out tax forms. If you live in a state with state income tax, you can download your state tax forms online. The directions for each state will be slightly different.
Getting your filing correct, however, requires a little pre-planning and information gathering. Reviewing the basics of filling out tax forms will help you make sure your filing isn't rejected and you don't end up with a late fee or penalties.
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Read More: Form 1040: What You Need to Know
Gather Your Income Information
If you're an employee, you should have received a Form W-2 from your employer by January 31. If you do freelance work, have investments or sell to clients, you might have received one or more 1099s. If you do freelance work such as babysitting, mowing lawns or pet sitting, you won't receive a W-2 or 1099, but you'll need to report that income.
If you receive a salary and a commission, and/or received a bonus, talk to your employer about how it handled those extra payments. There are two different ways they might have done this, affecting the amount of taxes they paid for you.
The tax rate you'll pay will depend on your income bracket. After you've filled in your income, expenses, tax credits and deductions and determined your taxable income, you'll then need to find your tax bracket. You can find tax brackets in the paper IRS booklet or by doing an online search.
Get Your Personal Information Correct
The IRS identifies you by your Social Security number or your Employer Identification Number. Make sure the SSN or EIN that appears on any W-2 or 1099 matches what you're going to put on your tax return. For extra security, use the same name that appears on your Social Security card or EIN letter – for example, Stephen vs. Steve. Make sure your street address and phone number are correct too.
Know Your Schedules
If you're going to itemize deductions, you'll use Schedule A of the 1040. If you're going to claim business deductions, you'll use Schedule C. If it's been a while since you've claimed business deductions, be aware that beginning in 2018, employees can no longer claim unreimbursed business expenses, due to the Tax Cut and Jobs Act. This takes place through 2025.
Filing Using E-File
If you want to file electronically, use the directions at the IRS website page titled, "Electronic Filing Options for Individuals." This page provides not only directions for filing, but also links to free filing assistance services, commercial software programs and authorized e-file tax professionals.
IRS Free File is free of charge if your adjusted gross income is $73,000 or less (as of February 2022). You'll follow the directions provided and can call the IRS for assistance at 800-829-1040. The service is available 24 hours each day.
Filing By Mail
If you're going to mail a paper return, attach your W-2 to the front of the form. You usually won't need to include any 1099s.
Address the envelope to the IRS using the address for your state. You can find your address on the IRS website. The addresses might not be in your state, but are for people in your state to send to the correct IRS regional office.
The state addresses will also be different, depending on whether you're including a payment or not. To get proof that you mailed your return by the right deadline, send your letter certified or registered mail, or use a private delivery service like DHL, UPS or FedEx.