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How to Fill Out Your Form 1040

Form 1040 is the tax form you will fill out every year when you do your federal income taxes. Prior to the 2018 tax year, there were multiple versions of the 1040 form, but for 2019 and beyond, the form has been consolidated into a single version. While people with more complicated tax situations may need more forms and schedules, everyone filing taxes will need to fill out Form 1040 in order to file their taxes. For help with taxes and other financial issues consider working with a financial advisor.

Form 1040 Defined for the U.S. Individual Tax Return

The full name the IRS gives to Form 1040 is “Form 1040: U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.” As of 2019, there is only one version of the Form 1040, which means all tax filers must use it. Previously, filers with simple tax situations could use the 1040EZ or 1040A. However, these forms are no longer in use because of the tax plan that President Trump signed into law in late 2017. The only exception to this is Form 1040NR, which nonresident aliens use.

Form 1040 Instructions

There are two pages of the 1040. The first page asks for your basic personal details. This includes your name, address, Social Security number (SSN) and filing status. If you’re filing jointly, you also need to add the name and SSN of your spouse.

Filers with dependents need to add the names, SSNs and the relationship (to the filer) of each dependent. There is a box beside each dependent that you can check if you’re claiming the child tax credit or credit for other dependents.

You will also see a box that you should check to certify that you, your spouse (if you file jointly) and all of your dependents had qualifying health care coverage or a coverage exemption for all of the year.

The final part of the first page requires you to sign and then write in your occupation. You should do this after you have completed the rest of the form. If you work with a tax preparer or accountant to file your 1040, they’ll also sign and enter their information.

Enter Your Income

Next up, things get a bit math-intensive. Lines 1 through 7 are all about your income. If you have a W-2, you will need to enter the earnings information from that form here. You also need to attach any and all W-2 forms you have.

Then, you can enter information on any interest, dividends, pensions, annuities, individual retirement account (IRA) distributions or Social Security benefits. Using all these sources of income, you will calculate and enter your adjusted gross income (AGI) on Line 8b.

Calculate Your Adjusted Gross Income

How to Fill Out Your Form 1040

Once you’ve written down all of your income, it’s time to make any necessary adjustments to that income. These adjustments are called above-the-line deductions. They receive this title because you have to remove them from your total income before you can get your AGI. Your AGI is the income figure that the federal government actually uses to determine how much you owe in income tax.

Taking these deductions will require you to attach additional forms to your return. Previously, the 1040 included a 15-line section that took filers through a number of the available above-the-line deductions. But since not all tax filers make adjustments, this section was removed from the 1040 and spread across Schedules 1 through 6.

So, for example, if you want to claim above-the-line deductions for the self-employment tax, you will need to attach two forms. Schedule 4 now allows you to say that you’re claiming the deduction and then you need to attach Form SE to actually claim it.

Note that some deductions that existed in previous years were eliminated with the next tax law. Examples of defunct deductions are those for moving expenses and college tuition and fees.

Look Through Possible Taxes and Credits

Once you’ve made the necessary adjustments and found your AGI, there are some other taxes and credits to consider. First of all, you need to enter on Line 9 either your standard deduction or the amount of your itemized deductions. If you have a qualified business income deduction, you will enter that on Line 10.

Lines 11 through 14 allow you to enter the amounts of certain credits if you qualify for them. For instance, you can enter the amount of your child tax credit on Line 13a.

If you already had some federal tax withheld from your income, you can enter that amount on Line 17. You will also need to attach Schedule 4 if you have paid other taxes.

Check on Your Refund

The next section is all about your refund. If the number on Line 19 (your total payments) is greater than the number on Line 16 (your total tax) then you have overpaid the government and are due a refund. Subtract Line 16 from Line 19 to get the amount by which you overpaid and enter it on Line 20.

In the rest of the refund section, enter the bank details (account number and routing number) for the checking or savings account in which you want to receive your refund. If you want your refund as a paper check or you want to use it to buy savings bonds, you will need to indicate this on Form 8888.

Determine How Much You Owe

If Line 19 (taxes paid) is less than Line 16 (taxes owed), then you need to pay the IRS some more money. That’s what the final section of Form 1040 is for. It’s called, appropriately enough, “Amount You Owe.”

On Line 23, subtract Line 19 from Line 16 to get the amount you owe. On Line 24, enter any penalties owed if applicable.

Additional Types of 1040 Forms

In certain situations, you might need additional 1040 forms that correctly provide the IRS with your unique details. This is when you may need to use a variant of the 1040 form. Keep in mind that the former 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ forms were all consolidated into the new Form 1040 in 2017. Here are the variant 1040 forms that remain and who each is typically used for:

  • 1040-ES: This form is used by those that need to pay quarterly taxes such as the self-employed or those that own rental properties.
  • 1040-NR: This form is used by nonresident aliens who do business in the United States.
  • 1040-SR: This is a paper form for seniors that was introduced in 2019 to help make it easier to read and fill out.
  • 1040-V: This is an additional form for those that pay anything from the “amount you owe” line on your 1040 or 1040-NR.
  • 1040-X: This form is filed to make changes to a previously filed 1040 form.

The Bottom Line

How to Fill Out Your Form 1040

Form 1040 is the basic form for filing your federal income taxes. The form walks you through calculating your AGI and claiming any credits or deductions for which you qualify. The form ends with helping you to determine your refund or how much you owe. You can also use online tax software to make your calculations easier. help to simplify the filing process by using tax software.

Tips for Managing Your Taxes

  • A major part of any comprehensive financial plan is a plan for your taxes. In fact, financial advisors typically offer this service to their clients. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • As your income changes double-check how those alterations will affect your federal income tax return. To get an idea of how much you’ll get back or need to pay, stop by SmartAsset’s federal income tax calculator.

Photo credit: ©iStock/ronstik, ©iStock/Drazen Zigic, ©iStock/Pra-chid

Amelia Josephson Amelia Josephson is a writer passionate about covering financial literacy topics. Her areas of expertise include retirement and home buying. Amelia's work has appeared across the web, including on AOL, CBS News and The Simple Dollar. She holds degrees from Columbia and Oxford. Originally from Alaska, Amelia now calls Brooklyn home.
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