What Tax Documents Do I Need?

What tax documents do you need to complete your tax return? The answer depends on your personal situation -- some people only need their W-2, while others need a massive stack of paperwork. With that in mind, here's a list of most common forms of tax documentation Americans may need.

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Documentation of your income

For most people, the most important form you need is your W-2. You should receive one of these from each employer you worked for during the tax year. Your W-2s show how much you earned as well as how much was withheld for taxes. It also shows if you contributed to a retirement plan and can contain some other important information.

While all of these don't apply to everyone, some other income-documenting forms you might need are:

  • 1099-MISC: You'll receive these forms to document miscellaneous income you received, such as through freelance work.
  • 1099-B: This form is typically issued by a brokerage, and contains information about gains and losses of stock transactions you made.
  • 1099-INT: If more than $10 in taxable interest was paid to you during the year, such as from a CD account, you'll get one of these.
  • 1099-DIV: If you received a total of $10 or more in dividends (even if you reinvested them), you'll get this form.
  • 1099-R: If you took a distribution of $10 or more from any retirement account, such as an annuity, 401(k), IRA, or life insurance policy, you'll get this form.
  • 1099-G: This form states the amount of unemployment insurance you collected.
  • 1099-C: If you had a debt forgiven, it is generally considered to be taxable income, so you'll get this form.
  • 1099-S: If you sold a property, you may receive this form.
  • SSA-1099: This form shows the amount of Social Security benefits you received.

In addition to these standardized IRS forms, you'll need to gather documentation for alimony you received, any business or farming income, rental property income and expenses, gambling winnings, jury duty pay, and any other miscellaneous income you received. This could mean receipts, cancelled checks, bank statements, profit/loss statements, or other appropriate paperwork.

Documentation for tax deductions and credits

Here's the fun part. These documents are what you'll use to reduce your taxable income or to qualify for tax credits, and therefore lower the amount of tax you pay. The most common deduction/credit-related forms you need to save include:

  • Form 1098: This form shows how much mortgage interest you paid last year. You'll receive one if you paid a total of $600 or more. This form will also include mortgage insurance and points you paid, if applicable.
  • Real estate tax receipts.
  • Receipts for personal property taxes.
  • Receipts for vehicle license fees.
  • Form 1098-T: Students who paid tuition and other qualified education expenses will get this form. Depending on your income and status in school, this can qualify you for one of three tuition-based deductions or credits.
  • Form 1098-E: If you're in the process of repaying your federal student loans, this form will show the amount of interest you paid. As long as your income is less than the annual maximum, you can deduct up to $2,500 in student loan interest from your adjusted gross income.
  • If you contributed to a Medical Savings Account, gather documentation of the amount you contributed.
  • If you're a teacher, save receipts or cancelled checks for any classroom expenses you paid out-of-pocket.
  • If you made traditional IRA contributions, gather documentation such as a statement from your broker or your own bank statement showing the contributions. The same goes for other, less common IRA types such as the SIMPLE IRA and SEP-IRA.
  • If you paid alimony, gather cancelled checks or bank statements showing the amounts paid.
  • If you paid child care costs, you'll need to document the amount you paid, as well as the care provider's name, address, and tax ID.
  • If you adopted a child, gather records such as legal, medical, and transportation expenses, as well as the Social Security Number of the child.
  • For charitable donations, gather your receipts and any other documentation you received. Here's a guide to documentation requirements for donations.
  • Medical and dental expense records (NOTE: This deduction only applies if these expenses are more than 10% of your AGI for most people).
  • If you had any casualty or theft losses, documentation for the amount of damage as well as any insurance reimbursements.
  • Records of any unreimbursed employee expenses, such as work uniforms.
  • If you work from a home office, you'll need the square footage of your office and any home business expenses you had.

Healthcare documentation

Forms 1095 A, B, and C are used to document that you had health insurance throughout the year. Form 1095-A can help you calculate the tax credit you're entitled to for buying health insurance through a state or federal exchange. Forms 1095-B and 1095-C, one of which you'll receive if you get insurance through your employer, aren't needed to file your taxes, but should be saved in case you need to document that you met the minimum coverage requirements.

Personal information to gather

If you don't know your and your spouse's Social Security numbers, find out what they are before getting started. Also, if you want your refund quickly, I highly suggest having your return directly deposited, so you'll need your bank account number and routing number. (Caution: Be sure to enter these numbers perfectly, as any errors can lead to major delays in receiving your refund.)

How long do you need to save your tax documents?

According to the IRS, you should keep your tax documentation for three years from the date you filed your return, or two years from the date you paid the tax owed, whichever is later. One notable exception is documentation of a loss from worthless securities or a bad debt deduction, which should be kept for seven years.

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