What Documents Do I Need to File My Taxes?

By Maurie Backman Markets Fool.com

For some people, the hardest part of filing a tax return is gathering the right papers and documents. And if you're thinking you can escape that legwork by hiring someone to file your taxes, think again. You're still the one responsible for that key data, so you'll need to figure out what information to provide to your tax preparer sooner rather than later. Here are some of the things you'll probably need.

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Income and payment information

To file an accurate tax return, you'll need to know how much income you received from various sources. Any time you earn money, whether it's in the form of a steady paycheck or a dividend payment, you must report that income to the IRS.

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To file your return, you'll need the following on hand:

  • Your W-2: This form will come from your company and list not only your salary for the year but the amount of taxes withheld along the way. You're required to file your W-2 along with your taxes, so if you're a salaried employee, this form is non-negotiable.
  • Your 1099 forms: Though there are different types of 1099s, they all serve the same function of reporting various income outside of a regular salary. Though you generally don't need to file your 1099s along with your return, you'll need them to know how much income to report. Keep in mind that any 1099 you receive will also be filed with the IRS, so if your numbers don't match what the IRS is seeing, you could get flagged for an audit.
  • Profit and loss statements: If you own a business or are self-employed, you'll need a profit and loss statement to arrive at a number to include on your tax return. The same holds true if you own rental properties.

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Deductions, credits, and adjustments to income

Deductions, credits, and adjustments to income can help lower your tax burden. While you'll need the following information to make the most of these tax benefits, you won't necessary receive it in the form of official outside documentation. Rather, in many cases, you'll need to comb through your records and figure out what to put on your return. Here's a summary of the information you'll need:

  • Your healthcare costs, including insurance premiums, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and health savings account (HSA) contributions
  • Your charitable contributions
  • Your retirement plan contributions
  • Your estimated tax payments, if you made any throughout the year
  • Your child care expenses
  • Your unreimbursed work expenses, including educator expenses such as classroom supplies
  • Your alimony payments
  • Your homeowner expenses, including mortgage interest, property taxes, mortgage points, and PMI premiums
  • Your home maintenance costs associated with the home office deduction, including homeowners' insurance, water, heat, and electricity
  • Your tuition and student loan interest payments
  • Your moving or job search expenses

Additional documentation

If you're hiring a professional to do your taxes, you'll typically need to provide a copy of the previous year's return. If you don't have it on hand, you can request it from the IRS, but since it'll cost you money to do so, you may be better off obtaining a tax transcript instead.

Additionally, be prepared with a copy of your Social Security card. Your tax preparer will need this to verify your Social Security number as well as the spelling of your name. Finally, be sure to bring along a voided check. This way, if you're due a refund, your tax preparer can arrange for you to receive it more quickly via direct deposit.

The process of gathering your tax documents can be somewhat laborious, especially if many of the above line items apply to you. But with the tax filing deadline only slightly more than a month away, it's crucial that you carve out some time to go through your records, collect your paperwork, and follow up on any missing information. The sooner you get started, the less stressed you'll be as we creep closer to Tax Day.

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