If you file your own taxes, you know that the IRS uses your Social Security number as your Tax ID. But if you use a professional tax preparation service, make sure your tax data and financials include your Social Security number, as well as your spouse’s if you file a joint form.
In fact, you’ll need identification numbers for everyone you list as a dependent. This includes elderly parents, infants and college students who are still under your support, whether they live under your roof full-time. If any of your dependents don’t have Social Security numbers, go to the Social Security Administration website at http://www.ssa.gov/ssnumber/ to download and apply for a Social Security account. Also, make sure to provide your tax preparer with tax identification numbers for the person or business that provides daycare for your dependent children. You’ll need those numbers in order to qualify for the child care credit.
It’s important that all relevant Social Security numbers are included in the data packet you use to file – or drop off for your tax person. Missing Social Security numbers can result in additional taxes or delay the filing process. This would slow down any tax refund due you by the IRS, or disallow a tax credit if you don’t have the supporting ID numbers.
By law, every employer is required to supply a Form W-2 to each employee by the end of January. The W-2 is a simple statement of how much was earned, how much was taxable and the total taxes withheld. If you have more than one job, you should get a Form W-2 from each employer.
If you’re a self-employed contractor, the company you worked for will send you a Form 1099-MISC showing your gross earnings.
There is more leg work involved when you are self-employed, to gather your tax documentation. Firstly, track down all receipts and documentation for business-related expenses. This includes mileage records you kept when using your car for business, office equipment and supplies you bought, utility bills you paid to keep the home office lights on and even part of your rental/mortgage payment.
The IRS will want to know more than how much you made in wages last year. If you are saving money for your child’s college education, a new home, or retirement, the IRS will want to know, because the Interest earned on most savings accounts is taxable. You should obtain yearly statements for each account and any applicable tax forms. Copies of the forms should be included in your tax filing with the IRS.
Typically, you would receive a Form 1099-INT for any interest earnings and a Form 1099-DIV for each stock, mutual fund or money market account – if own stocks or mutual funds. If you use a broker, you should receive a Form 1099-B.
Make sure to hang on to your year-end financial statements to compare with the official final tax documents.
There are a number of things you can do during pre-filing preparation that can trim your taxable income and reduce your liability, and expenses related to your home are a great place to start.
As a homeowner, you probably already know the value of a mortgage. The mortgage not only gets you into your house, the interest you pay on it (which is significant) is tax also deductible. You should receive a Form 1098 from your lender with the amount of interest you paid on your home. Also, if you made an extra mortgage payment last year make sure the extra interest payment is counted.
And this mortgage interest isn’t limited to just your primary residence. If you have a second, or vacation home, the interest on that loan will be sent to you on a separate Form 1098. This is deductible also, as is any interest you paid on a home equity loan.
Homeowners can also claim real estate taxes as a tax deduction. If part of your monthly mortgage payment includes charges used to pay annual real estate taxes, then the Form 1098 you get from your lender will also list this amount.
Also, did you pay any state or local income taxes last year? This information is listed on your W-2 and is also deductible.
Not a homeowner? Not a problem. If your state or county charges a personal property tax, there is a tax deduction opportunity for you. Often, this tax is on autos, so if you pay, make sure the collecting tax agency sends you a statement showing how much so you can put it on your Schedule A. The fees you pay to license your vehicle are also deductible.
Are you a charitable person? The IRS acknowledges your kindness by allowing for the deduction of specific donations to charity.
If you donate cash to a qualified charity, make sure to obtain a note from the group if your gift was $250 or more. If your donation was smaller, you don’t need a receipt, but it is wise to obtain some sort of documentation, whether it is a canceled check, bank, or credit card statement, just to be on the safe side.
Do you regularly drop off clothes or household items at a Goodwill or Salvation Army? Make sure you get a receipt for those donations. Make sure you only donate reusable items. Clothing and items deemed as of “minimal monetary value” can be denied by the IRS. Don’t donate trash and then write it off as charity. The Salvation Army has a Donation Value Guide for estimating your deductions at http://satruck.org/donation-value-guide.
While you can’t deduct the value of your time working as a volunteer, you can deduct 14 cents for each mile you commuted to do the volunteer work. Just document the mileage to and from the worksite and then note on your calendar the days that you worked.
While this is not a complete list of possible deductions for you, you’ve already gone a long way towards preparing yourself for tax filing – or collected the documents you need to hand off to your tax preparation service. You should now be able to find the tax documents you need and keep track of all the tax-related statements you receive. More importantly, you’ll immediately realize if you’re missing anything or if some information needs to be corrected. By getting organized early, you’ll give yourself the time you need time to complete filing your taxes properly while saving you time, anxiety and money.
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