Start With The Basics: Make sure you have all the forms and schedules you need. If not, go to www.irs.gov/.
Set aside time to rummage through your personal records, including last year’s returns, checkbooks, credit-card statements, receipts, appointment calendars and bills. Your objective: To scavenge for forgotten deductions, particularly if you are self-employed.
Plan a Strategy: Should you fill out the 1040 yourself or hire someone? The answer depends on how complicated your finances are. If you have income from, say, rental properties or partnerships or operate your own business, you might need professional help.
If not, the IRS and many volunteer organizations, such as AARP, offer free help. Also consider electronic filing. TurboTax, TaxCut and other software programs are comparable in quality and prompt you step-by-step to make filing easy.
A reminder for next filing season: If you decide to turn the chore over to a paid preparer, meet as early as possible. For a first-time meeting, bring along returns for previous years. In some cases, reviewing past filings uncovers miscues that require amending or ways to trim the tab that you might now be overlooking.
Filling Out The 1040: If you do your own return, read the instructions carefully. They include plain-language explanations of changes in the tax laws and are essential in accurately preparing your return.
Before sending in your paper return, photocopy it. Also be sure to attach securely all required schedules and statements — for example, Schedule A, on which you itemize deductions, or Schedule D, which lists gains and losses from sales of individual stocks, mutual fund shares and other assets.
After You File: Save records that support deductions, exemptions and other items on your return, and that photocopy of your return. You will need them if the computers bounce your return. Generally, the statute of limitations for the IRS to start an audit is three years from the return’s due date.
As one last step, open a file now for this year and begin to save the information that you will need next year at 1040 time.
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