With 16 years of tax preparing under her belt, Deanna Robbins, a master tax advisor at H&R Block, was able to share some advice for tax season. Whether you decide to complete your tax documentation yourself or leave it up to the professionals, here are a few tips and tricks to keep in mind.
What Tax Documents and Information Should You Have Ready?
Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
“Every person that files a tax return needs to have their identification, Social Security number or ITIN. All individuals that receive income tax documents need to bring those to their tax preparer,” advised Robbins.
If you don’t have a Social Security number, you’re required to have an ITIN. According to the IRS, the ITIN is a tax processing number only available for certain non-resident and resident aliens, their spouses, and dependents. It is a nine-digit number beginning with the number nine and formatted like an SSN. To obtain an ITIN, you must complete IRS Form W-7.
A W-2 states your wages and withheld taxes. Your employer should have sent you a W-2 prior to February 2, 2015. You should contact your employer if you haven’t received this form.
There are various 1099 forms. You may or may not receive one (or many) depending on your situation. According to the IRS, “If you made or received a payment during the calendar year as a small business or self-employed (individual), you are most likely required to file an information return to the IRS.” The IRS suggests requesting the form from your employer if you do not receive one.
Depending on your situation, you might need some other documentation to prepare your taxes:
- Brokerage account statements and tax forms (which should include your cost basis for figuring capital gains and losses)
- Receipts for donations, business costs and other tax-advantaged expenses
- State income tax, property tax, and sales tax documentation
- Other documentation related to income, such as alimony (child support isn’t usually taxed), jury duty pay, unemployment benefits, Social Security income, etc.
- Any other documentation required to prove that you’re eligible for tax credits and tax deductions (including medical expenses, casualty losses, moving expenses, job hunting expenses, etc.)
Tips for Preparing Your Documents
Organize and Categorize
Robbins recommends keeping all of your tax documents in one place, whether it be a shoe box or a big envelope, so things don’t get misplaced.
On the other hand, most tax preparers are not bookkeepers or accountants, so bringing in a shoe box full of receipts will cause a seasonal tax preparer frustration, especially in the peak of the season. A good way to keep documents organized is to separate them into three categories: income, assets and personal documents.
“People rush in to get their taxes done, which then causes the tax preparer to rush on getting individuals in and out of the office. This is a reason why mistakes happen during the peak of the tax season – which is the last week of January and first two weeks of February. If people wait a little longer, we would not have to amend tax returns as often as we do, due to mistakes or missing documents.”
Robbins said, “Usually the best time to get your taxes done by a firm or company is in the month of March. The rush is over then, and tax preparers can spend real time with their clients. This is when we usually see our more complex tax returns come in.”
Make Sure You Have ALL Your Documents
“A very common problem is people usually do not wait to make sure that they receive all of their tax documents. They usually receive their W-2s and rush in to get their taxes done. After they leave the office and go home, within a day or two, they will receive another document. They will call us back and we will have to amend their return – which we charge for – and then they will usually have to pay back some of the refund they received from this original filing,” said Robbins.
While taxes may seem daunting now, the more organized and patient you can be, the better your experience will be with your tax preparer. If you take a deep breath, step back, and find a way to keep yourself organized, each year will become easier and hopefully much less stressful!
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