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How to File Your Tax Return – 2020 Basics & Guide

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Doing your own taxes can be confusing, but it’s a life skill that all financially informed people should develop. We’ve gathered information to help you learn about tax basics, prepare for completing your return, and understand the various credits and deductions you may be entitled to.

But it’s not all over once you file. You need to know what might happen after you file and tips to prepare for next year.

Tax Basics

History of Income Taxes in America – Taxes have played an important role in the formation of the United States, and understanding their history helps us understand the tax system today and American history, in general.

Do You Need to File Taxes? – Depending on your age, income, and filing status, you may not actually need to file taxes.

Important Tax Dates to Remember – Make tax day a breeze by keeping organized and on top of important dates throughout the year.

Guide to Common Tax Forms – There are many forms related to taxes – here’s an outline of important points and tips for the W-2, W-4, 1040, 1098, and 1099.

Understanding Credits and Deductions – What’s the difference between a tax credit and a tax deduction? This guide explains how each affects your tax bill.

6 Ways Tax Reform Could Affect Your Taxes This Year – The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 is a couple of years old now. But it still continues to surprise taxpayers who don’t understand how it affects them. Here’s how it could impact your taxes.

How to Pay Your Taxes – The IRS offers several different ways to settle your tax bill.

How to Amend a Return You’ve Already Filed – If you discover mistakes or deductions you didn’t take on a past year’s return, the IRS allows you to fix errors for up to three years after you’ve filed.

Preparing for Tax Season

Using Tax Preparation Software vs. Hiring a Professional – Which Should You Do? – If you’re new to tax prep or wondering whether your usual method is the best fit for your situation, here’s how to decide.

Choosing Tax Software – There are many tax programs available. Read our reviews below to find a product that works for you.

Free Tax Filing Options – If you meet certain guidelines, you can use some popular tax programs for free.

How to Choose a Tax Preparer – Know how to find a qualified professional and be aware of common tax scams.

Common Tax Filing Mistakes – Don’t let your refund be delayed by making one of these common mistakes!

Ways to Save Money on Taxes – Find out what you can do throughout the year to pay less taxes and save more money for yourself.

Financial Moves to Make at the End of the Year – Get the most out of your next tax filing by making these smart moves ahead of tax season.

Understanding Taxes You May Owe

5 Different Types of Taxes and How to Minimize Them – Learn about different types of taxes you may pay and how to minimize their impact.

Calculating Your Total Tax Liability – The United States uses a stepped tax, with different income levels taxed at different amounts. Read this primer on how your tax liability is calculated.

Taxes on Government Benefits – Social Security, disability, and other government benefits may be taxed differently than regular income.

What Is Gift Tax? – If you gave a large gift to someone else this year, you may be liable for paying gift taxes now, or on gifts in the future.

Estate & Inheritance Tax – Threshold, Rates & Calculating How Much You Owe – If you plan on leaving an estate to loved ones when you pass away, here’s what you need to know about your tax obligations.

Children’s Tax Liability – Your under-18 titans of industry have their own special tax rules, especially concerning investment income.

Taxes and Divorce – Heading into a separation or divorce affects your taxes in several different ways.

Tax Tips for Unmarried Cohabiting Couples – Even if you can’t file as married at the federal level, you can make smart financial moves to lower your tax bill.

State and Local Taxation – Each state has its own taxation laws, with different rates and rules.

Tax Implications for Investing

Saving With Credits and Deductions

Family

Who Is a Dependent? – The IRS has specific guidelines on who can qualify as your dependent, based on your relationship and support.

How Parents Can Maximize Credits and Deductions for Children – This includes the all-important child tax credit. If you have children under 17, there’s a good chance you’ll qualify for a $1,000 refundable credit per child.

The Child and Dependent Care Credit – Paying for daycare, eldercare, or home health care? You may qualify for a tax deduction.

Claiming the Child Tax Credit – Everything You Need to Know in 2020 – Some parental tax deductions and credits are only available for day care or higher education costs. This one doesn’t have those requirements.

Married Filing Jointly Versus Filing Separately – In some situations, you can reduce your taxes by using a different filing status.

Educational Tax Breaks – Help lower the cost of college or continuing education by using one of the four educational tax credits or deductions.

Home

Standard Deduction vs. the Itemized Tax Deduction – This includes information on the all-important home mortgage interest deduction as well other tax deductions and whether to itemize or take the standard deduction for your filing status.

Tax Deductible Moving Expenses – Moving for work isn’t fun, but it can be less expensive with these tax breaks.

Energy Efficiency Tax Credits for the Home – Get a tax credit and save money on your heating and cooling bills at the same time.

Work

Job-Related and Job-Search Tax Deductions – Looking for a new job, or accruing expenses at your current one? Find out what items you can deduct.

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC or EIC) – If your income is low enough, you may qualify for the EITC, which maxes out at a $6,044 refundable credit for 2013.

Other

Little-Known Tax Deductions – Don’t miss these frequently overlooked tax deductions.

Retirement Savings Tax Credit (Saver’s Credit) – The IRS wants to encourage low-income earners to save for retirement with this credit.

Charitable Deductions – Making donations of cash, goods, or investments to a charity can net you big deductions.

How Tax Reform Affects Deductions for Charitable Giving This Year – The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 substantially increased the standard deduction for charitable giving. Here’s what you need to know about the changes.

Small Business Taxes

Tax Deductions for Self-Employed Freelancers & Small Business Owners – You can work from anywhere and still get big tax savings on your freelancing expenses.

Guide to Schedule C Deductions – Small businesses may be missing out on ways to lower their tax bill by missing deductions. Make sure you get deductions on all your qualified expenses.

The Home Office Deduction – Working from home can be convenient and also save you a bundle on taxes.

How and When to Pay Estimated Taxes – Freelancers and small business owners won’t have someone else withholding taxes for them – find out how to do it yourself to avoid getting  a big tax bill at year’s end or an underpayment penalty.

Getting Ready to File

How to File an Extension – Don’t have your ducks in a row by the filing deadline? Get an extension on tax filing – but not tax paying! – for up to six months.

Auditing Tips and Red Flags – The IRS can review your tax returns up to three years, generally, or six years in some cases. And there’s no limit on auditing fraudulent returns. Look out for these issues that sometimes start an audit, and what happens if you are audited.

11 IRS Tax Audit Triggers – Red Flags You Should Know Before Filing – The last place you want to find yourself is in the Internal Revenue Service’s crosshairs. Avoid these red flags when preparing your tax return to prevent unwanted attention from good ol’ Uncle Sam.

What Happens If You Don’t Pay Your Taxes? – If you aren’t able to pay your taxes, the IRS will go through a series of attempts to collect, and may hold you criminally liable. You can contact the IRS to set up a payment plan when you don’t have the cash to pay right now.

What Happens If You Miss the Tax Deadline? – Penalties for Filing Late – If you missed the tax filing deadline, here’s what you need to do to get back on track with the IRS as soon as possible.

How to Adjust Your Withholding – Ending up with a big refund just means you’ve lent the government your own money all year! Adjust your W-4 to get more of that money in your paycheck.

When to Hire a Tax Attorney – Some tax situations are too complicated or fraught with legal issues to handle alone – these are some situations when a tax attorney in your corner is a smart move.

Avoid the Tax Refund Loan – A tax refund anticipation loan is only a good deal for the company that makes the loan – it’s never a good deal for you.

4 Reasons the IRS Can Seize Your Income Tax Refund Money for Debt – There are several situations in which the IRS can legally seize your refund.

Smart Ideas for Using Your Refund – Use your refund to make a real difference in your financial situation and your life this year.

Final Word

Taxes don’t have to be a stressful experience. Remember, with knowledge comes power. And tax knowledge translates directly to the power to save money. Even if you pay an accountant to do your taxes, no one knows your situation better than you. The more you learn about which deductions you qualify for, what items count as charitable contributions, and how to time payment for major medical expenses, education expenses, and retirement contributions, the more money you can save during tax season and all year round.

Do you do your own taxes? What’s your best tax tip?

Kira Botkin
Kira is a longtime blogger and serial entrepreneur who enjoys gardening, garage sales, and finding stray animals. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, where football is a distinct season, and by day runs a research study for people with multiple sclerosis. She hopes that the MoneyCrashers team can help you achieve your goals and live a great life.

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