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Advice: How To Do Your Taxes, for Amateurs

January 9, 2018

Y'all already know what time it is, tax season is here and you definitely need that refund. If you’re like me, you’re new to the adult life and are filing as an individual for the first time. Here’s a quick guide to navigating the process and what you’ll need to prepare for and complete your tax filing.


There are 2 major individual filing categories, Employed and Self-employed. Today we’ll focus on the Employed filing procedure.


Here are the two dates you’ll need to know. Your employer should provide you with your tax documents no later than January 31st and you must file your taxes by April 15th.


(You can also just use a free service like TurboTax, but this information's good to know regardless).


The Form 1040


In order to file your taxes you’ll need to fill out the IRS form 1040. This can be found for free on the IRS website you can fill it out and submit it electronically. If you're a heathen, you can also fill out the form on paper; it can be mailed to you, printed, or picked up in most post offices around tax season.


It’s on this form that you’ll select your status and exemptions, as well as your annual income found on your W-2, which your employer should provide to you before January 31st.


What's an exemption? Personal and dependent exemptions reduce your taxable income. You, your spouse, and any kids qualify as exemptions. Exemptions are closely related to your status unlike deductions and allowances, which depend largely on your expenses. If your status is single with no dependents you will claim 1 personal exemption, that’s it.


There are a few different 1040 forms. The 1040, 1040A, and 1040EZ are the most common. While they all seek the same information, the 1040EZ (the easy form) is the least complex. You’ll qualify to submit this form if you’re single with no dependents and one job - all information found on your W-4.


The Form W-4


The next important document is the W-4, which your employer should have provided you with before your actual employment began. It's on this form where you will select your allowances, which determine how much federal income tax is withheld from your paychecks.


As said previously you’ll get 1 exemption for yourself on the form 1040, but on the W-4 you get a few options for your allowances; 0, 1, 2, or 3 .


You’ll select 0 if you’re still a dependent OR you want the maximum amount of tax withheld

You’ll select 1 if you’re single with no dependents and one job

  • Highly likely to result in a refund

You’ll select 2 allowances if you’re married OR you’re single with 2 jobs

You’ll select 3 allowances if you’re married with 1 child


You should update your W-4 every year or with every significant life event ie a raise, an additional job, the birth of a child, a marriage, etc. etc.


Additional Forms


If you’re still in school you’ll probably receive a 1098t from your institution, you’ll need to upload this when filing as it will impact your refund.


If you’re really deep in your finances and want itemized deductions, you’ll need to fill out a Schedule A form. I don’t know about all that so you’ll have to do some digging.


In summary

  1. Update your W-4

  2. Gather your documents, all of which you should receive by January 31st (W-2, 1098t, etc)

  3. Fill out your 1040

  4. By April 15th pay your taxes or wait to get paid

There are other aspects to the process not discussed here, like tax credits and "loopholes", but the IRS website is a great resource to learn about most things tax. They’ve got worksheets and videos that’ll walk you through the process, and also make it fairly easy for you to fill out and submit all of your materials. You can also track your refund or pay whatever you owe directly on the site.




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