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Step-by-Step Guide to Filing Your Federal Taxes

If you live in the U.S., 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 taxe return. Some people may be exempt from income tax, particularly if they earn below a certain amount, but virtually everyone of taxpaying age must file an annual return with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). If your assets, income, and other financials are simple, then you most likely can file the one-page 1040EZ form. But the 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.

Additional resources:

  • To File or Not To File? (IRS)
  • Do You Need to File? (IRS)

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, such as a widow or a singler parent. Married couples have the option to file jointly -- as a unit -- or separately.

Deciding Which Tax Form to Use

The main types of tax forms used for filing tax returns are 1040EZ, 1040A, and 1040. Form 1040EZ is the simplest to use and is tailored toward those with few assets. For instance, you may use 1040EZ if you don't have dependents, have a taxable income of less than $100,000, and are not claiming deductions other than the standard deduction, just to name a few of the restrictions. If you don't qualify for 1040EZ, you will need to use 1040A. Those that don't qualify for 1040A will have to use form 1040, which is the most complex.

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. 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 (if applicable) quicker than if you mail in your return.

Additional resources:

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 (a year ending on the last day of any month except December), 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, but you get an automatic extension (generally until June 15th) if you are out of the country. 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 if it finds any, but getting it right the first time will save you time and possibly 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.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps

Contact a qualified tax attorney to help you navigate your federal and/or state tax issues.

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