Are you dreading the thought of fulfilling your annual obligations to the IRS by filling out your Form 1040? You aren't alone. Filing taxes isn't anyone's favorite thing. After all, you have to handle tons of paperwork, do math, and potentially pay the government money in the end.
The good news is, there are steps you can take to make tax filing easier. In fact, if you follow these five pieces of advice, filing your 2018 taxes in 2019 should be much simpler than you're anticipating.
1. Get help if you need it
Figuring out your taxes totally on your own is just too complicated. But you don't have to because many software programs make it easy to file by answering a series of simple questions. If you earned less than $66,000 in the 2018 tax year, you can file for free using these programs. The IRS has a list of free e-file options, so find a tax-filing program that works for you.
If you need more assistance than a software program can provide, certain filers can get free help from a tax professional. For people who have low incomes, who are disabled, or who have difficulty with English, free help is available through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. Free assistance is provided to seniors by Tax Counseling for the Elderly. The IRS has info on where to find volunteer assistance if you're eligible.
For those who don't qualify for free help, paying for tax advice is usually pretty affordable. Hiring a tax professional may be worth doing if you're filing your first return and you'd like extra hand-holding, if you've had major lifestyle changes that could affect your taxes, or if you have a particularly complicated tax situation.
2. Gather all your paperwork before starting
When you file your tax return, you're going to need to submit some information including details about all your income sources, as well as details about deductions you're claiming, like the deduction for student loan interest. Keeping your paperwork in one place will make it easier to find the necessary details for completing your tax forms.
Scrambling to find the necessary numbers when you're trying to fill out your forms will only add to the stress of filing taxes, so gather all your tax-related paperwork before you start. This can include W-2 forms, 1099s, dividend and interest statements, receipts showing medical bills and charitable deductions, and any other tax documents you've received in the mail or via email.
3. Brush up on new tax rules
While you're never going to know every detail of the complex U.S. tax code, it's important to know basic rules that determine how much you'll owe the IRS. Start by understanding the deductions you can claim, how to choose your tax filing status, and what credits you're eligible for. IRS Publication 17 provides a basic guide to filing your taxes that can help you understand some of the key rules affecting your tax liability.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act -- which passed in December 2017 -- made fundamental changes to U.S. tax law that went into effect for the 2018 tax year. It almost doubled the standard deduction, so there's a good chance you'll claim that deduction instead of itemizing, even if you've itemized in the past.
This comprehensive guide to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act can help you understand all the ways your tax situation may have changed this year as the result of the new legislation. Take the time to read it before starting so you're ready to file under the new rules.
4. Set aside plenty of time to do your taxes
Did you know the average American spends around 13 hours doing taxes each year? Be sure to plan for this huge chunk of time. If you don't schedule uninterrupted time to handle your taxes, you're likely to stop and start many times, which means figuring out where you left off each time you return to it. Your stress level will also be much higher if you feel like you're rushing to get everything done and your chance of making mistakes will be greater.
Instead of just trying to fit in your tax preparation whenever you have a spare moment, schedule a good block of uninterrupted quiet time when you can sit down and concentrate. This may mean going to the library or another quiet space on a weekend or evening. While this may not sound like your idea of a good time, you'll be a lot happier than if you end up rushing at the last minute.
5. Don't wait until the last minute
Finally, start working on your tax return ASAP to keep your stress levels from skyrocketing. The deadline for filing your 2018 taxes is April 15, and if you don't file on time -- or request a timely extension -- penalties begin accruing right away. And the penalties for failure to file on time are hefty. The IRS levies a penalty of 5% of your unpaid tax balance for each month (or part of one) your return is late.
Filing early also means you receive your refund sooner if the IRS owes you money. You can start putting this money to work sooner rather than later by filing your taxes now.
Filing your taxes and getting your return in a timely fashion also reduces the risk of identity theft since you can hopefully get your return submitted before scammers use your information to submit a fraudulent return. Quit procrastinating and just get it done.
You can make filing your return easier
By getting organized, leaving yourself uninterrupted time to fill out your forms, and getting help if you need it, you can make the process of complying with your tax obligations much less stressful. Get started by scheduling your block of time to work on your tax return. Tax Day is fast approaching and you don't want to be scrambling April 14, Tax Day Eve, to get everything done on time.
The $16,728 Social Security bonus most retirees completely overlook
If you're like most Americans, you're a few years (or more) behind on your retirement savings. But a handful of little-known "Social Security secrets" could help ensure a boost in your retirement income. For example: one easy trick could pay you as much as $16,728 more... each year! Once you learn how to maximize your Social Security benefits, we think you could retire confidently with the peace of mind we're all after. Simply click here to discover how to learn more about these strategies.
The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.