For a lot of our readers, this tax season is the first, or one of the first, they’ll be filing their own taxes. Between having a salaried job, private contracting and having a slew of part-time gigs, there are quite a few ways one’s taxes could become a stressor. We checked in with our resident millennial grown-up, Melissa Harward on tackling tax season for the first time. Read on for your guide to everything first-time taxes filers need to know from the symbolism of this step into adulthood to the actual tips and resources you’ll need to get the job done.
Filing your own taxes is a big leap into the world of adulthood. Taking on increased responsibility – for yourself and others – is the yellow-brick road of growing up.
If you’re filing your taxes for the first time, my guess is you’re a twenty-something (and hey, if you’re younger or older, kudos to you, too). With that label, however, comes a cloud of ambiguity. This is a time of transition. Maybe this is your first year of full-time employment. Maybe you’re still searching for that perfect job and all you have to file for all your part-time gigs. Maybe you’re starting to ask yourself about goals, about who you want to be. The “not-knowing” area of adulthood is perhaps the most frightening. Not having answers can summon anxiety, stress, even depression.
As Dr. Meg Jay puts it, our 20s are the defining decade of adulthood. The clinical psychologist’s TedTalk and book about the struggles and triumphs of this generation emphasizes that you shouldn’t “be defined by what you didn’t know or didn’t do.”
It can be easy to see your taxes as a tiny step down the path to your future. But while prepping your own taxes may seem like a small feat when reviewing all you plan to do in the next 10 years or so, getting it done could be the confidence-booster you need to take the next big step. If you’ve never filed before, the task might seem overwhelming. But if you can master a few forms, do a little math, and sign your name on something to be proud of, you’ll be just fine.
Thankfully, unless you own a business or have money stashed abroad somewhere, doing your own taxes is relatively straightforward and can even be free of cost.
There are a multitude of no- to low-cost tools that can help you in preparing your federal and state taxes before April 15. If your income is below $60,000, you can file your federal return for free directly with the IRS using freefile. There is also the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which offers free tax help in the community to those who typically make less than $53,000. This restriction may differ for your area, and you can find a VITA site near you here.
If you’re looking at tax software, TurboTax and TaxAct are two of the more popular choices. You may file your federal return for free, but the state return will cost you $36.99 or $14.99, respectively. If your situation is a little complicated – do you have rental income or capital gains? – these software programs might charge for additional calculations. Avoid stopping into an H&R Block or other professional tax business, as most will attempt to “upsell” you on additional tools or calculations.
If you own a business, your situation is complicated, or if you’re making more than $60,000, you might consider finding a reliable Certified Public Accountant, or a CPA. A search online can yield a dozen or more results in your area, but the best way to find someone is by asking those successful business men or women you know. Be prepared to spend a few hundred dollars for services, depending on your needs.
To file your taxes, remember that you’ll need information on your income for the year, a copy of last year’s return, statements on interest from banks or student loan payments, proof of health insurance, and records of your expenses if you plan to itemize each deduction. If these expenses are less than $6,200 (if you’re single) or $12,400 (if you’re married and filing jointly), you’ll just need to take the standard deduction.
For more answers, the IRS’s Interactive Tax Assistant contains more than you would ever need to know.