Step-by-Step Guide to Filing Your Federal Taxes
By FindLaw Staff | Legally reviewed by John Devendorf, Esq. | Last reviewed December 17, 2021
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If you live in the U.S. and have a job, you probably pay taxes. In addition to retail sales tax and the taxes paid at the pump for gasoline, you also must file your personal income tax return. Some people may be exempt from income tax if they earn below a certain amount but most people over 18 have to file an annual return with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Most taxpayers will have to file using form 1040. In the past, simple forms like the 1040-EZ were available, but after 2018, the 1040-EZ is no longer available. If your income is below a certain amount and your tax situation is simple, you may be able to find a free online tax filing service. Filing with the more complex financial situation of homeowners, parents, small business owners, and others often necessitates help from a tax preparer, accountant, or tax lawyer.
Below you will find information and resources to help you at each step of the federal tax filing process. Choose a link to get started (For detailed information on federal tax filing, see In-Depth Information on Filing Your Federal Taxes).
Should You File?
If you are a citizen or resident of the United States and meet the IRS's filing requirements, you will have to file a personal income tax return. The filing requirements include considerations of gross income, age, and filing status.
Generally, one's "filing status" refers to their marital status and whether they file as "head of household." A head of household, for example, would be someone who is unmarried but is financially responsible for a household. Married couples have the option to file jointly or separately.
Deciding Which Tax Form to Use
The main type of tax form used for filing tax returns is Form 1040. Most taxpayers now file their taxes using an e-file option, including Free File for taxpayers with an income of $72,000 and below (in 2020). If you mail in a paper form, you will have to fill out a Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, including any necessary Schedule forms.
How to File: Paper Forms or E-File?
Taxpayers have the option of filing their taxes by sending in signed paper forms or doing it electronically, called "e-file." If you choose to mail your tax returns, you also have the option of downloading fillable forms that you then print out and sign. If you paper file, you will also have to attach copies of your W-2 and other required attachments.
In order to file electronically, you may use third-party tax-preparation software or find an authorized IRS e-file provider (fees may apply). If you e-file, you are more likely to get your refund quicker than if you mail in your return.
When to File Your Taxes
Individuals generally file their taxes on or around April 15 following each tax year. But if you apply for an extension in time, you may have until October 15 (or near that date, depending on weekends, holidays, etc.) to file. If you use a fiscal year to file, your tax return is due by the 15th day of the 4th month after the close of your fiscal year.
There are a few different ways to get a filing extension. If you reside outside of the country, you generally get an automatic 2-month extension until June 15th. Keep in mind that an extension to file is not the same as an extension for payment, but the IRS does offer payment options.
Protect Your Financial Interests by Calling a Tax Law Attorney
Everyone's taxes are a little different and may be impacted by countless factors, including home-ownership, children, investments, and home businesses, to name a few. The IRS will give you an opportunity to correct mistakes, but getting it right the first time can save you time and money. Have a tax attorney review your tax obligations and provide you with peace of mind.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
Contact a qualified tax attorney to help you navigate your federal and/or state tax issues.