Filing taxes can seem like a stressful process, but it doesn't have to be – especially when you can be getting back thousands of dollars in credits! For many, and especially for those navigating this for the first time it can be confusing to know where to start and what to expect.
Here’s an overview of filing taxes – from start to finish. (This guide is for filing electronically, which we strongly recommend given it is safer, faster, and easier than submitting taxes on paper.) At Let’s Get Set we focus on your federal tax return, but in most states in the U.S. you also need to file a state tax return.
Step 1: Gather your IDs and documents
To file taxes you will need a taxpayer ID, which is either your SSN or an ITIN (a taxpayer ID for people without a SSN). If you are claiming children on your taxes, you will also need the relevant identification documents for them as well.
Once you receive your tax form(s) from your employer, you can technically start preparing your taxes. This usually includes W-2 form(s) from your employee income, 1099 form(s) from your side hustles, gigs, self-employment income (like Doordash!), or any part-time employment you may have. You’ll receive a form for any unemployment you received and sometimes forms for your healthcare – especially if it was purchased via a state marketplace. You may also receive a tax form if you’ve made profits in investments, if you’ve sold stocks with a broker (like Robinhood), or if you’ve had other income source(s) like gambling winnings. You need to wait until you get ALL of your forms before you file. It is not worth it to start filing until you have everything that you need!
Step 2: Estimate tax refund & preparing your returns
Once you have all your tax documents ready, you can start filing your tax return with your tax preparer or software of your choice (like TaxSlayer or TurboTax). If working with a preparer, they will often ask you to answer some questions. If using a software, you will answer the questions it asks you so that it can correctly calculate your credits based on your specific tax situation.
To do this, you will want your forms from step 1 nearby. You will use the forms to accurately fill out things like your income, withholdings, donations made, medical expenses, child care expenses, etc. You will have a chance to review all of the information before you submit your return. If you work with an in-person preparer, make sure you have a list of tax credits that you might be eligible for. (Don’t know which tax credits you qualify for? We can help you with this simple tax credit calculator.)
At the end, you will receive an accurate federal and state tax refund amount, and a list of tax forms that have been completed for you by the software and are ready to file.
Step 3 - Review
After you’ve answered all your questions, we know you want to submit it. BUT please take a minute to review the return and give it a final look! If you see any mistakes, it is so much easier to correct them before you submit than afterwards. And often silly mistakes like a mistyped SSN or a typo from a W-2 can severely delay your tax refund.If you are filing in-person, your tax preparer will likely have this ready for your review. If you are filing with a software like TurboTax, this is the last step before you submit your tax return. You want to review the form called the 1040, which is like the “Receipt” from your tax return. It’s the summary page that includes all of your main info and all of the credits you received.
Make sure you carefully read through and check all the information you provided. If there is an error, the IRS can reject your return, and it won’t be processed until you re-submit. So be sure to carefully check all the information listed.
Step 4 - Pay (if applicable)
If your tax preparer or software charges you for filing with them, you will need to make your payment now. Some softwares do give you the option to pay with your tax refund money (for an extra fee) so nothing is due at the time of submission. Be careful with options like that though because often those fees are high and very sneaky!
Most families in the U.S. are actually eligible to submit tax returns for free. If you make less than $70k a year, you qualify for FREE tax preparation services. We help hard-working families like you to match with a free and accurate tax preparer so you won’t lose part of your refund to tax prep fees! Use our tax-time tool to see who you can file with for free.
Step 5 - Submit your tax return!
Submit your return and you are all done! You should receive a confirmation from your tax preparer or software stating that your return is accepted by the IRS, usually within 2 business days. After that, you just need to sit back and wait for your tax refund money to arrive. :) Remember you will get your refund 4x times faster if you have a bank account to set up direct deposit. Usually it takes less than 3 weeks for the IRS to process and send the money into your bank account.