Your 2017 Tax Preparation Checklist

By Maurie Backman Markets Fool.com

With the April 18 tax filing deadline rapidly approaching, now's the time to start going through your documents and getting your paperwork in order. Now you may be wondering: What do I need to file my tax return? One thing you should know is that regardless of whether you're filing your own taxes or paying a tax preparer to do them for you, you're still the one responsible for providing the necessary information to submit a return. Here's a comprehensive list of the tax prep items you'll need.

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Personal information

To file your tax return, you'll need a few key pieces of personal information, including:

  • Your name
  • Your date of birth
  • Your Social Security number
  • Your bank account information (if you're signing up for direct deposit)

You'd be surprised at how many people have their taxes rejected for providing the wrong Social Security number, so check yours carefully before including it on your return. Also, while it might seem like a no-brainer, if you're hiring an outside tax preparer, be sure to provide a clear spelling of your name so that he or she gets it right.

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Income history

In order to file an accurate return, you'll need to report all of the income you received for the 2016 tax year. This figure encompasses more than just your salary; it should include interest payments, dividend payments, freelance compensation, Social Security checks, retirement plan benefits, and any other earnings you collected. Some common forms and documents you'll need at the ready include:

  • Your W-2
  • Your 1099 forms; keep in mind that there are different types of 1099s, so if you receive multiple forms, don't assume that they're duplicates
  • Your alimony payment summary, if applicable
  • Your business profit and loss statement, if you own a business
  • Your rental property profit and loss statement, if you own a rental property

Adjustments to your income

Adjustments to income can help you reduce your total income and lower your tax burden in the process. Adjustments to income are often referred to as above the line deductions, and you'll need the following information to ensure you're getting your maximum tax benefit:

  • Form 1098-E, which summarizes your student loan interest
  • Records of educator expenses (teachers can deduct up to $250 per year for out-of-pocket school supplies)
  • Records of retirement plan contributions
  • Records of health savings account (HSA) contributions
  • Records of health insurance premium payments if you're self-employed
  • Records of moving expenses
  • Records of alimony paid

Tax deduction and credit information

The IRS offers a number of valuable tax credits and deductions that can help lower your tax bill. To capitalize on these, however, you'll need to have the following information available:

  • Form 1098, which is your mortgage interest summary (this will also include PMI premiums and mortgage points, if applicable)
  • Records of medical expenses
  • Records of child care costs, including the name and address of your provider
  • Form 1098-T, which lists your tuition expenses for the year
  • Records of charitable contributions, including cash and non-cash donations
  • Records of unreimbursed work expenses (such as uniforms, continuing education, and travel)
  • Records of home expenses (such as heat, water, and electricity) if you're taking a home office deduction

Tax payment records

The taxes you pay throughout the year can impact the amount you owe (or are owed). To prepare this year's taxes, you'll need:

  • A record of the property taxes you paid
  • A record of the estimated tax payments you made during the year (if you're self-employed)
  • A record of the taxes you had withheld from your retirement plan distributions, which can be found on Form 1099-R

In addition to everything listed above, you should also have a copy of last year's tax return on hand. This is something an outside tax preparer is pretty much guaranteed to ask for.

While all of this might seem like a lot of information, if you plan ahead and give yourself ample time to gather it all, you'll be a lot less stressed as the tax filing deadline nears. Remember, even if you're planning to hire someone else to do your taxes, the above information will still need to come from you, so don't wait until the last minute to get started. The more thorough and prepared you are, the better your chances of avoiding an audit and enjoying a hassle-free tax filing process.

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