The Rules You Must Follow If You're Filing Your Own Taxes

When it comes to your finances, do you take a head-on or a head-in-the-sand approach? If you identify with the latter, then the good news is that you’re not alone. The bad news? You’re not alone. New data suggests that when it comes to managing money, women are not as independent as you'd expect. In fact, 91% of women in couples are not participating in financial decisions. But we want to change that statistic. To help you become a master of your own finances, we’re debuting a new series called The Paper Files, where we uncover tricks and tips that will help you manage your money and your future. Ready to tackle it head-on?

It’s that lovely time of year known as tax season, in which you usually pull the covers over your eyes and saunter into your local tax preparation center a few days before your forms are due, fingers crossed for what you hope is a generous refund. No matter the reason, you’ve decided on filing your own taxes this year (props to you!), which doesn’t need to be a hassle if you have the right tools in hand. Big reminder: The deadline to file this year is April 18—you don’t want to be penalized. Below, we’ve rounded up the important things you need to do this year if you’re filing your own taxes.

Get Organized

Designate a desk or coffee table as your “tax zone” until you’ve finished filing. Set yourself up with your laptop, a calculator, a notebook, some pens, receipts, and your 2016 day planner. Also needed are your W-2 forms (if you had taxes deducted from your paychecks last year) and 1099 forms (for any job that did not deduct taxes from your pay). Leave your cell phone somewhere else so you can focus.

Decide How to File

There are three ways you can file: a paper form, an online program (usually free for basic form filing), or by downloading tax-preparation software. If you’re having difficulty deciding which online program to use, we already rounded up our top three options—TurboTax, H&R Block, and TaxAct—and we’ve broken them down by your filing status.

Educate Yourself

Do your research. Did you incur expenses to move out of state last year? Did you have college loans? Did you have significant medical expenses last year? Look at the IRS’s list of allowable deductions, and add up all of yours.

Choose Your Deduction Type

If you’re single and your total deductions are less than $6300, or if you’re married and your total deductions are less than $12,600, then you likely want to claim that standard tax deduction. If your deductions are greater than those numbers, you’ll want to file with itemized deductions; it involves more work but can give you a better return in the long run. Remember, if you get audited, you will have to show receipts or bank statements proving these itemized deductions. 

Ask for Help

Once everything is together, start the paperwork, whether it’s on paper, online, or through a tax program. Chances are you will have questions on your first go, so don’t feel bad calling a family member or friend who has been through this process before. H&R Block even lets you get free advice from its tax professionals if you use their program… so take advantage of it.

Keep Detailed Records

Make copies of your current return to use as a model for next year, and make a list of the process while it’s still fresh in your mind. Keep all of your records in a storage box that doubles as decoration (we like these Mondrian Boxes With Lids, from $10 each).  All of your hard work will make filing your 2017 taxes yourself a breeze! Now go celebrate that you have a whole other year before you need to do it again.

Have you ever filed your own taxes? Share any tips you may have in the comments below!