Tax Filing: 9 Steps To Make It All Less Confusing If You Still Need To File

We’re approaching the tax deadline, and if you haven’t filed yet, you might be freaking out a bit.

But you don’t have to, because we’re here to help! We’ve put together some helpful tips to calm your tax stress and get your return across the finish line.

And remember, even if taxes feel overwhelming, they are required — not doing them is not an option. So breathe, relax and read through these top tips to help make tax time less confusing.

Gather Your Documents in One Place

If you’re trying to finish your tax return, it’s near-impossible if you have tax documents in a million different places. You want to gather everything you need in one place so that you don’t accidentally forget something.

The easiest way to do this is by downloading any digital copies you have of your W-2, 1099s from side hustles or contract work, 1095 forms for healthcare coverage and any other tax docs you’ve received. If you received a paper document, use your phone camera’s “scan” feature or download a scanning app to convert your paper docs into PDF documents.

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Once you have digitized everything, create a secure folder on your computer or cloud storage named “[YEAR] Taxes” to stay organized.

Take Our Poll: What Do You Plan To Use Your Tax Refund For?

Pick a Tax Software (Fastest Way To File) 

Taxes can be confusing and take forever, but tax software makes the process a whole lot easier. There are several top-rated tax software platforms that walk you through each step of the process, helping you find any missing deductions and ensuring you input everything needed into your return.

You can realistically knock out your return in an hour or two (if it’s relatively simple), and then you can e-file your return directly within the software program. This is the fastest way to prepare and submit your return, and will get you a refund quicker than mailing it in.

Use Last Year’s Data 

If you haven’t had much change in the past year, you can use your previous year’s tax return as a reference to help you get everything filled out. Even better, if you filed using tax software last year, you can usually import most of your data into this year’s return, saving you a ton of time and helping you remember what forms and documents you need for this year.

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Figure Out If You’re Itemizing

Ever since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act increased the standard deduction, not as many Americans are itemizing their returns. But if you are single and expect more than $12,950 in deductions, or married filing jointly and expect more than $25,900 in deductions, you may be itemizing. And head-of-household filers expecting more than $19,400 in deductions may qualify as well.

Itemizing means adding up qualifying deductions to see if they exceed the standard deduction, therefore lowering your tax burden for the year. Things to look for include:

  • Mortgage interest
  • State and local taxes (or sales tax)
  • Property taxes
  • Charitable donations
  • Medical and dental expenses (exceeding 7.5% of your adjusted gross income) 

Make a Last-Minute IRA Contribution

Did you know that you can contribute to your IRA after the year ends? If you didn’t max out your contributions for the 2022 year, you can make a contribution up until April 18, 2023, and it will count toward your 2022 taxes. 

If you’re under age 50, you can contribute up to $6,000 in an IRA for the 2022 tax year, and if you’re 50 or older, you can contribute up to $7,000. This can give you a larger return and help maximize your retirement contributions for the previous year. Win-win!

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Double-Check Your Deductions and Credits

While you may be feeling the crunch of getting all the details into your tax return in the next week or so, it’s still wise to slow down and double-check everything. Go through each section of your return (tax software helps with this) and make sure you didn’t miss anything.

Some common deductions and credits to look for include:

  • State sales tax deduction
  • Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
  • Donations (thrift store, etc.)
  • Moving expenses
  • IRA contributions
  • HSA contributions
  • Student loan interest
  • Home equity loan interest

Be Prepared To Pay

If you are filing your return last-minute, or expect to file late, you must still pay your taxes owed by April 18, or you may face penalties. Make sure you have funds set aside to pay any taxes owed, as being in debt to the IRS is probably the worst type of debt to have.

The penalties and interest levied on tax debt can be significant, and the IRS has the power to start taking property if needed. If you don’t have the funds in place, consider setting up an installment agreement with the IRS to pay it off over a period of time. This can help you avoid extra penalties and keep yourself from getting in further trouble with the IRS.

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File an Extension

If you don’t think you’ll be able to get your return completed on time, you may want to preemptively file an extension. Extensions typically give you six extra months to file your tax return, though you still need to make a payment to the IRS if you think you’ll owe. Extensions are straightforward and many tax software companies let you file them for free. 

Hire a Professional

If you are scrambling to get everything together and don’t want to deal with the headache of figuring it all out yourself, you might consider hiring a professional tax preparer to help you complete your return. This can help you get the best return possible, and avoid any legal issues as well. The best tax preparers are licensed and carry a CPA, Tax Attorney or Enrolled Agent (EA) designation.

Bottom Line

Taxes seem to get more confusing every year, but you can get them done with the help of online tax software. If you pull your documents together in one place, refer to previous returns and double-check everything, you should be good to go. If you don’t think you can get it all done on time, make sure to file an extension to avoid extra penalties and fees from the IRS. And finally, if you are simply too overwhelmed to get everything done, find a licensed tax professional that can help you get it done quickly while getting you the best return possible.

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About the Author

"As a nationally-recognized personal finance writer for the past 8 years, Jacob Wade has written professionally for The Balance, The Spruce, LendingTree, Hedge With Crypto, Investopedia, Money Under 30, and other widely-followed sites. He has also been a featured expert on CBS News, MSN Money, Forbes, Nasdaq, Yahoo! Finance, Go Banking Rates, and AOL Finance. His  background includes five years as an Enrolled Agent at an accredited CPA firm, where I prepared tax returns for individuals and small businesses."
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