Tax Season officially starts today, the first day you can file your 2023 return with the IRS. For those of you who have those returns already done, dusted, and filed — congratulations, enjoy your life. For the rest of us, here’s what you need to know about filing your taxes this year. 

Mark your calendars!

Individual returns are due on Monday, April 15 (making Sunday, April 14, the scariest Sunday of the year). Filers in Maine and Massachusetts have until Wednesday, April 17 (they get a scary Tuesday).

If you file an extension by that date, your return will be due on October 15, but note that if you do owe the IRS money, you’ll pay late fees for not having paid it by the original deadline. (You can pre-pay your estimated tax bill by April 15 to avoid those fees.) 

Gather your docs (you might need a wheelbarrow)

Whether you plan to do your taxes yourself, use an online service, or pay a professional, you still have to do the legwork of getting your materials in order.

Gather W-2 forms from employers and 1099 forms from anyone who paid you more than $600 in 2023 — they’re due to be sent to you by January 31. (If you don’t get yours by mid-February, nudge your employer — starting March 1 you can ask the IRS to nudge them for you.)

If you made income from any other sources in 2023 — rental income, home sale, stock sale, interest, dividends, the lottery, etc. — there are forms for those, too. (Search the master list of 2024 IRS forms here.)

If you plan to make individual deductions, gather your receipts. Some common deductions include IRA and self-employment retirement account contributions, tuition payments, big medical bills (over 7.5% of your gross income), property tax, mortgage interest, and charitable donations.

If you are a confirmed victim of tax-related identity theft, you’ll also need to get your 2024 IRS PIN, which should have been mailed to you. (Anyone can register for an IRS PIN to protect yourself from fraudulent tax returns — once you register, you get a new pin every year online through your IRS account.) Finally, you’ll need to track down last year’s tax return so you can include your 2022 Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) on this year’s return. 

Now marvel at your stack of papers/bursting desktop folder: Well done. The good news: You’ve done a big thing, a real feat of executive functioning. The bad news: You haven’t technically started doing your taxes.  

Make a filing plan

The Taxpayer Advocate Service estimates that the average American spends 13 hours and $240 to prepare and file one annual tax return.

If your income is $79,000 or less, you can file your taxes for free via guided software at IRS Free File. (People making over the limit can get free fillable forms at that link, but no guidance.)

If your income is $64,000 or less or you’re disabled, over 60, or have limited English, you can get free filing help in person.

Other online tax filing services include TurboTax, H&R Block, TaxAct, TaxSlayer, FreeTaxUSA, and Credit Karma, all of which offer varying levels of paid services.

For more personal service, a tax preparer is a real gift, but if you don’t have one already, get on the phone ASAP to find someone with availability. You can use the IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers to find credentialed tax preparers in your area, though a personal recommendation is always a real boon (ask everyone you know for their tax guy, and you’ll get some names). 

A few screening questions to ask potential tax preparers: 

  • What are their credentials? All tax preparers will have a PTIN, but some will also be Accredited Business Accountant/Advisors, Accredited Tax Preparers, Enrolled Agents, licensed attorneys, or CPAS — we recommend going with a preparer with one of these designations, as they’ll have had to undertake more vigorous and recent trainings.

  • Will they sign your return? They should say yes—it’s the law!

  • What are their fees? Only go with people with a clear fee structure—run from anyone who charges based on your refund amount.

  • Will they e-file or submit a paper return? You want them to e-file—you’ll get your refund quicker, and the paperwork trail will be easier to follow.

  • Can you review your return before it’s sent? They should say yes, and you should always do this.

  • Will you be working with one person the entire time? They should say yes—you want to make sure one person will be working on your return throughout the process, including any disputes from the IRS.

  • Asking your dad/uncle/godmother to do your taxes is another option, but we don’t recommend it. Grow up! 

Make a payment plan or refund plan (i.e., don’t spend it all in one place) 

IRS statistics show that about 64% of Americans received a tax refund in 2023, with the average refund being $2,753. If you expect a refund, you’ll get it fastest with direct deposit.

Your refund should hit your account one to three weeks after your filing date (if you’re waiting for a check, you can expect it three or more weeks after you file). It can be tempting to use your check to splurge on a big purchase, but here’s our advice: Deposit it directly into an emergency fund or high-yield savings account and forget about it. And then consider adjusting your withholding so that you’re not giving the feds an interest-free loan with each paycheck.

If you owe the IRS money at the end of this journey, that’s okay. If you have it, pay it. If you don’t, call the IRS and talk to someone about a payment plan. Both are good options. The only bad option is ignoring it.

So once you’ve been paid or paid up, take one more step and adjust your withholding with your employer or up your personal tax savings to make it easier for yourself next year. Because Tax Season 2025 will be here before you know it. 

Download Cheddar's 2024 Tax Prep Checklist

Taxes can be overwhelming, but Cheddar has you covered. Presenting...the tax preparation checklist!

The checklist takes you through what you need for each step of tax season 2024 (and some of 2025) — down to the exact date. It's free to download (or print out if you're a bit more analog).

Season's greetings! Filing season, that is.

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