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Federal Income Tax Filing - Doing Your Taxes the Easy Way

Updated on January 5, 2013

Preparing for April 15th

As the April 15th deadline approaches for filing your federal returns, it's time to get yourself organized and prepared so you can keep tax season as stress free as possible. One way to simplify preparing your income taxes is to consider filing online with the help of one of the popular income tax preparation software suites.

If you are accustomed to filling out frustrating and often times hard to understand forms by hand each year, you can take some of that hassle out of the process by submitting your return online instead. There are several big advantages to e-filing your return over sending it in the mail.

Advantages of Filing Your Return Online

1. Fast confirmation of receipt. You get free automatic confirmation that the IRS has received and accepted your return.

2. The refund process is much faster. When you file your income tax return online, you can have your refund deposited directly into your bank account and often in as little as a few weeks.

3. Less chance for errors. Most major online preparation programs do the math for you on your return and guarantee its accuracy. This can nearly eliminate the chances of your return being selected by the IRS for further review due to a careless error in arithmetic.

4. Assistance finding deductions. The built-in features in most popular programs will help you review your personal situation and identify deductions you may qualify for based on your income level and answers to qualifying questions.

Preparing Your Taxes

Here are a few tips for navigating through the process of filing your income tax return this year. Start by making sure you have all of your W-2 forms for you and your spouse if applicable. You will need to have access to these before you can submit your return. In some cases your tax software might be able to download them directly from your employer or your employer's payroll company.

Next, gather up any additional tax related forms you may have received for the year. Some of the more common ones include 1099 forms showing any additional income you received, form 1098 showing any mortgage interest you paid during the year, form 1099-INT showing interest income, and any others that apply to your personal situation.

Once you have gathered up all of your related documents you can start working on your return. Be sure to allow yourself enough time to track down any missing forms or records before the filing deadline. Remember, even if you file for an extension you still must pay any taxes due by the April 15th deadline.

Selecting Tax Filing Software

While there are quite a few choices out there when it comes to software, I recommend using either TurboTax or H&R Block At Home. Both of those offer an affordable and easy to use platform that will have you on your way to finishing your return quickly. When selecting a program, be sure to choose one that provides both federal and state taxes all in one program so you don't have to transfer information between two different programs. You will also want to choose a program that includes e-file capability so you can file your return at the click of a button. Many of the top tax software programs now include e-file free when you buy the software.

Filing Online - What to Expect

If you've never filed your federal income tax return online before, here is a quick overview of what you can expect. You will start by entering your personal information such name, address, and employment information into the program. The software will then help you decide what your filing status for the year will be. You will then go through an interview process where the tax preparation program will ask you questions about your personal situation and based on your answers to these questions, it will lead you through your return. Best of all, the program looks to identify any areas where you may qualify for a deduction or tax credit and it will automatically apply your credits and deductions when it finds ones you qualify for.

Once you have completed your interview, most programs will then run an automated error check and make sure that your tax return is free of errors before you file. As a final step, you can even run an audit risk assessment and the program will point out any areas where you might be at an increased risk for triggering an audit.

When you have completed your final review and are satisfied with your results, filing your income tax return online is as simple as clicking a button. Your return will then be automatically transmitted to the IRS using a secure server and within 24 to 48 hours you will get a confirmation letting you know if they have accepted your submission. After that, you can just sit back and wait for your refund as long as you did not have any balance due on your return. All in all, it is a better and more convenient alternative than fighting the crowds of last-minute filers at your local post office!

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    • HBS Group profile image

      HBS Group 7 years ago from Maryland

      I agree, online tax filing is generally the best way to go. Some individuals are apprehensive in submitting their most secret financial information online, and that is understandable. But with the high levels of encryption the IRS has never been hacked! Most online programs now have an interview section where you answer questions, and from this, the program will have the input forms ready for you to complete, like W-2, etc. I have seen complete novices file their return with itemized deductions with no problem, and the e-filing is practically automatic and error free. Block and Turbotax are usually the highest cost on the more complex returns and there are several much lower, like Taxact, and do the same thing. (I don't sell Taxact)