Tax Guide: What Do I Need To File My Taxes?

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You may have found yourself at the stage in life asking what do I need to file my taxes?   The normal progression of adulting involves paying taxes eventually at some point in your life.

This usually starts when we are young and have your first part-time job, even while possibly living at home still.  Some individuals will eventually move out and get their own places which will change your tax situation as well.

The older you get the more involved and complicated your taxes will become in life.

You will encounter all kinds of different life situations and your taxes and the requirements of taxes will change.  You may become married, have dependents, care for older adults, or be independent your whole life.

One thing that is for certain is that life changes and so will your taxes.

Whether or not you decide to file your taxes on your own, or take them to a professional to complete, there are some ground rules that you should still be aware of.

This tax guide will help you cover some of the basics and reveal what you need to file your taxes.

Tax Guide 2019:  What Do I Need To File My Taxes

Who Has To File Taxes?

You may be wondering what are the requirements to file taxes? Luckily, the federal government details who has to file taxes. There are a couple factors available determine if you have to file taxes or not.  Those factors include

  • age
  • income
  • filing status

According to IRS Publication 501, the following individuals have to file taxes:

If your filing status is single and your gross income was at least $12,200.

If your filing status is head of household and your gross income was at least $18,350.

If your filing status is married filing jointly and your gross income was at least $24,400.

If your filing status is married filing separately and your gross income was at least $5.

If your filing status is a qualifying widow(er) and your gross income was at least used $24,400.

If you do not fit into one of those categories or you are unsure about your status, the IRS can help you.  They now offer an online interactive tool and tax assistant that will walk you through your situation to determine if you have to file taxes.

How Long Do I Have To File My Taxes?

For tax year 2019, the deadline to file your taxes is April 15, 2020.

This is fairly consistent year to year it will range somewhere in mid April.

Depending how certain days fall and April the day can shift a bit. Sometimes emancipation day which is a legal holiday and also situations when the deadline falls on Sunday will make the tax deadline date change as well.

What Forms Do I Need To File My Taxes?

Every taxpayer has a unique situation because nobody lives the same life exactly.  Therefore, it is impossible to list every single document that would be necessary to file your taxes.  If you have doubt, you should bring all documentation with you if somebody is filing your taxes for you.

However, in general, the following are good documents to have when filing your taxes.

1.  Prior Year Tax Returns

Prior year tax returns are extremely helpful for anybody completing their taxes.

If you are having somebody complete your taxes for you, be sure to bring the last four years of your state and federal income tax returns.  A lot of professional tax filing companies will review prior year returns for free.  In addition, if they find errors they often will correct those errors at no cost.

2.  Personal Information

The following items and documents below are a general guideline of things you may need:

Social Security or Tax ID Numbers and dates of birth for individuals that will be on your tax return.   Pending how you are filing, you may have your children, elderly parents you take care of, or other people in your household, including a spouse.

If you pay for childcare, you will need those records as well along with the providers tax ID number.

If you pay alimony to an ex spouse, you will need that information as well along with their Tax ID Number.

3.  Income Statements

These would be all of the documents that would list the income that you received. They would include the following:

  • All of your W-2s, 1098, 1099, and schedule K – 1 forms
  • If you have investments, you will need the purchase date and total investment for any stocks or property sold
  • Lists of all of your investment related expenses
  • Educational scholarships or fellowships you may have received

You will also need other income records. If you have part-time work, but made less than $600, you will not get a 1099.

However you still need to report that income so be sure to keep a detailed spreadsheet of these transactions if you have a lot of side work

4.  Itemized Deductions

This is a big one. This will often make or break you and determine whether or not you will take the standard deduction or go through the detail of completing the itemize deduction schedule.

I will say that if you have been able to pay off your mortgage early, you may be better off taking the itemized deduction since you will not have any mortgage interest to deduct. That is often one of the biggest itemize deductions for tax filers.

The following are some general items you will need for Itemized deductions:

  • Mortgage interest statements for any mortgages you have, real estate taxes if you have paid any, and personal property tax records
  • If you had any casualties or theft losses you need documentation for that
  • Amounts of state and local income tax paid in prior years
  • Receipts for any cash donations to religious institutions schools or other charities
  • Receipts and records for donations that were non-cash; in other words charitable donations to nonprofits
  • If you took a new job and had moving expenses and/or storage cots provided you meet the IRS guidelines on the requirements
  • If you had other job related expenses such as cell phone(s), travel costs, luggage and/or service fees that you had to pay for out-of-pocket that you were not reimbursed for by your employer
  • If you paid any student loan interest you will need that amount

5.  Education and Retirement

1099 deductions

You will need records of any contributions made to private IRAs or any other retirement plans.

This is especially true if you contributed to a retirement plan outside of your employer.

  • Records of tuition and other higher education expenses. These would include things like books, computers, as those may be deductible as well.


6.  Healthcare

Documentation for this item is especially true if you are self-employed.  Most self-employed individuals have to purchase health insurance on the private market.  All of that is deductible against your income made for your business.

Additionally you want to be sure that you keep all your receipts for your co-pays prescriptions and any other classes that are out of pocket.  This is also true for individuals who have group insurance coverage by their employer.

A lot of those policies still require the employee to pay significant amounts towards the overall cost.

7.  Income Statement For Self Employment

If you are self-employed and you are taking your taxes somewhere to be completed, it would be a good idea to prepare a simple one page income statement of your business operations. 

Income statement should summarize your gross self-employment income for the year and your related expenses.   The expenses should be categorized and summarized by the type of expenses such as advertising, fees, equipment, and supplies.

8.  Rental Properties

If you are heavily involved in rentals and real estate finance, you are going to need some documents to file your taxes.

You need the following items relating to rental properties:

  • Gross rental income you received during the year
  • All expenses that were paid in relation to the rental property

These would include things such as mortgage interest, and real estate taxes, maintenance repairs, association fees, management fees, and real estate commissions you paid if you purchased or sold property during the year.

Additionally if you did buy and sell property during the year you will need to know the rental start date and original cost base for all of the properties.  Not only is this information important for your taxes, but it is also necessary to set up your depreciation tables for your rental property.

If you are heavily involved in real estate investing, I would strongly recommend that you do not try to complete and file your taxes yourself.  The taxes should be completed by a professional preferably one that has extensive experience with the rental investment properties.  It can be very easy to make a mistake if you are not familiar with finance laws related to real estate.

9.  Business Use Of Home

This is a very tricky area as it relates to filing your taxes.  It is often one of the triggers by the IRS that will initiate an audit.

The requirements for this are that you use a portion of your home for business use.  There has been a lot of abuse on this particular deduction over the years. That is why the IRS now pays specific attention to this deduction.

Some of the things you will need to complete your taxes and utilize this deduction would be the following:

  • The square footage calculation of the area used for business
  • The day you begin using the space for business
  • Your original purchase price paid for the property
  • All of your utility expenses such as your gas, electric, condo fees, oil or propane if you use those, landscaping, maintenance, and snow plowing.
  • Documentation for any improvements that you made to your home
  • Direct office expenses such as supplies, phones, legal fees, business fees, etc.

10.  Estimated Tax Payments Made

This one is also important. If you made estimated tax payments during the year, your tax professional will need to know those amounts.  You should have the dates and amounts paid for all federal and state estimated tax payments made.  

11.  Business Rent

If you do operate a business but it is outside of your home, there is documentation related that you will need to have.  You want to be sure that you have records of all of the rent you paid for your business. This could even include things such as:

  • Storage fees
  • Offsite location for equipment
  • The physical location of your business especially if you have more than one location.

Be sure to have bank records of these expenses paid.  It is also helpful to have your landlords name and address of where the payments were sent to.

Filing Your Tax Return

If you decide to take your taxes somewhere to be completed, you are all set. The tax professional will file your taxes for you.

If you decide to complete your taxes yourself, you are responsible to file both a federal and state returns.  Some states do not have an income tax requirement, so be sure to double check if your state does.

Additionally if you lived in a couple different states during the year and made money in those states, you will have to complete the state tax return for each state.

The days of putting all of your documents inside a large envelope and mailing them to the IRS are over.  You can now electronically submit your federal and state returns using tax software.  Be sure to keep all the receipts and documentation in case you are selected for an audit.

If you choose to mail in your tax returns you can still do that.  Be sure to check the IRS website for the correct address on where to send your tax return.

Tracking Your Refund

Another great improvement with the IRS, is they now have a tool called “Where’s My Refund” that will allow you to track the status of your refund.

It is ultimately your choice to decide how to file your taxes. You can either file them yourself and use tax software, or take them to a tax professional to complete and file.

If You Owe Taxes

If you find yourself owing the IRS money there are a couple of options you have to send in the payment.  

If you are filing your taxes yourself and using a tax preparation software, there is usually an option to pay the amount you owe with the software.

You can also pay the IRS directly on the IRS website from your checking account.  And if you owe substantial amounts of money, you will have to contact the IRS.  They may be able to assist you in putting together a payment plan.

There is no question that tax season is stressful for everybody.   Whatever you decide, this guide should offer some guidance and help answer some of the questions you may have with the overall process.

BG Vance

For over 20 years, BG Vance has been a leader in public and personal financial management. He's developed and managed public budgets in excess of hundreds of millions of dollars. He is passionate about the FIRE movement and was featured in the Detroit News in 2001 about saving for retirement. Through the years, he's assisted families and individuals with getting their finances on track. He holds an MPA, is a licensed Realtor, and is currently working on a book about personal finance.

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