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Filing Taxes for the First Time? You'll Need These Documents

Filing taxes for the first time can be nerve-racking. But being organized can relieve some of your stress. Knowing what paperwork and materials you’ll need is a good place to start, especially if you’re concerned about leaving out a key piece of information. If you’re preparing to fill out your tax return, here’s a breakdown of the documents you’ll need to gather.

1. Income Forms

In order to complete your tax return, you’ll need to pull out all of the tax forms that show how much money you made in the past year. You’ll need to account for all of your taxable income, including self-employment income, unemployment benefits, and any interest you earned from an investment or a savings account.

If you were employed during the previous tax year, information about your wages and your salary will appear on a W-2 form. Interest, dividends or self-employment earnings are reported on Form 1099. Anyone issuing these forms has to mail them out by the end of January. So you’ll need to keep an eye on your mailbox.

When you receive a W-2 or 1099 form, it’s a good idea to look it over and make sure your personal information is correct. You may also want to match up the income reported on your tax forms with what appeared on your last pay stub for the year (or your personal records if you’re self-employed).

Keep in mind that the IRS also receives a copy of any W-2s or 1099s you receive. So it’s imperative that you ensure that everything listed on those forms is accurate.

2. IRA Contribution Statement

Filing Taxes for the First Time? You'll Need These Documents

If you’re socking away money in an individual retirement account (IRA), there are two good reasons to have documentation showing what you contributed at tax time. First, you may be able to deduct some or all of your contributions for the year. For tax year 2016, you could have saved up to $5,500 in a traditional IRA (or $6,500 if you’re 50 or older). Any contributions you make through the April tax filing deadline may also be deductible.

Savers who contribute to a Roth IRA may be able to cash in on the Saver’s Credit. Credits reduce your tax liability for the year on a dollar-for-dollar basis. For tax year 2016, you may be able to claim a tax credit for saving up to $2,000 if you’re single (or up to $4,000 if you’re married and filing a joint tax return). Your ability to claim the credit depends on your adjusted gross income.

3. Receipts for Deductible Expenses

Deductions reduce your taxable income for the year. They can reduce the amount of taxes you owe or increase the size of your refund. You may be able to deduct one or more of the following items on your tax return:

  • Tuition and fees
  • Student loan interest
  • Mortgage interest
  • Moving expenses
  • Job hunting expenses
  • Unreimbursed business expenses
  • Business travel expenses
  • Charitable donations
  • Health insurance premiums if you’re self-employed
  • Medical expenses
  • Real estate or personal property taxes

For some of these expenses – such as student loan or mortgage loan interest – you’ll receive a tax form in the mail. In order to claim the other deductions, you’ll need to keep track of receipts showing the date of the expense, the amount, who it was paid to and what it was for. Without the proper paper trail, you could land in hot water if the IRS decides to audit your return.

Double-Check Your Tax Return

Filing Taxes for the First Time? You'll Need These Documents

Once you’ve gathered all your documents together, you can start entering the numbers on your tax return. Whether you decide to file your taxes electronically or on paper, you’ll need to double-check your tax form before submitting it. Miscalculating or putting a decimal point in the wrong spot could mess up your whole tax return.

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Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She's worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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