How to File Your Federal Tax Return
Information About Filing Your Annual Income Tax Return With the IRS
You have two options for filing your Federal income tax return (IRS Form 1040). You can file a paper return or you can file electronically (a.k.a. “e-file”).
The IRS has announces each year when the tax returns will open in January. On this date, the IRS will start accepting electronic tax returns and processing the paper returns they receive.
Your Federal tax return is due on or before April 15. If you cannot file on time, then you should definitely get a tax extension to avoid certain penalties.
Filing Your Return Electronically
Filing your tax return electronically has some advantages:
• You can get immediate feedback if you make an error
• Your tax refund is processed faster (usually up to 21 days for an electronically-filed return, versus 7 weeks for a paper return)
You can e-file your return using commercial tax preparation software, an Authorized IRS e-file Provider, or a professional paid tax preparer.
These e-filing methods also allow you to create/print paper copies of your tax return. So even if you are filing electronically this year, make sure that you save and print a copy of your tax return (and any supporting documents) for your records.
Using Commercial Tax Preparation Software
With most commercial tax software, you can prepare your tax return and then e-file it directly to the IRS. First, you will need to provide your identifying information and answer a series of questions about your income. Remember that if you provide any incorrect or inaccurate information, it will raise a red flag with the IRS and could even trigger an income tax audit.
In many cases, you can also use commercial tax software to prepare and e-file your State tax return, usually for an additional fee.
If your income is below $60,000, you may be eligible to use IRS Free File Software to prepare and file your taxes. Free File Software is written by a third-party and certified by the IRS. According to the IRS website, their list of Free File Software will be available on January 16, 2015.
For those with income above $60,000, Free File Fillable Forms are available on IRS.gov. These are fillable, electronic versions of the Federal paper tax forms. While Free File Fillable Forms can do your math calculations, it only offers basic guidance for preparing your tax return. If you are going to use Free File Fillable Forms, make sure you know how to do your taxes.
Hiring a Professional Paid Tax Preparer
A paid tax preparer can help you file your taxes electronically or by paper mail. If you have a complicated tax situation or are unsure about which deductions to claim, you may want to consider using a professional preparer.
Filing a Paper Tax Return
If you want to prepare your own tax return and are uncomfortable using software, you can still file a paper form.
You can download PDF versions of Federal tax forms from the IRS website, which are available on the “Forms & Publications” page. Also note that during tax season, your local library should have paper copies of the most commonly used tax forms.
Paper tax returns are electronically scanned by the IRS, so make sure you write legibly. When mailing in your form, double-check that you’re using the correct mailing address (because it depends on what state you live in and whether you’re enclosing a check payment). The IRS provides a list of Where to File Addresses for Taxpayers and Tax Professionals.