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How to File Your Federal Income Tax Return

Tax Tips and Steps for Filing Taxes With the IRS: Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR

If you are living and/or working in the United States, you will most likely need to file a federal income tax return every year and pay taxes to the IRS. Although many people are intimidated by the thought of filing their tax return, there are some things you can do to prepare and make the process easier.

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Here are 5 main steps you’ll need to take in order to file your federal income tax return.

1. Find out if you are required to file a federal income tax return

While the majority of people are required to file and pay income taxes, there are certain low-income earners (as well as children) who are exempt. You will most likely have to file a tax return, but you should check the IRS filing requirements before you proceed. You can use the IRS online tool to determine if you’re required to file a federal return – see: Do I Need to File a Tax Return?

2. Determine your filing status

The federal tax filing statuses include: Single, Married filing jointly, Married filing separately, Head of household, and Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child. You may qualify for more than one filing status, in which case you will have to make a choice. In that situation, you should choose the filing status that will result in the lowest tax. You can use the IRS online tool to help determine your filing status – see: What Is My Filing Status?

3. Calculate your dependent exemptions

The IRS allows taxpayers to claim exemptions for their qualifying dependents. (Note that there use to be a personal exemption in addition to the dependent exemptions, but the personal exemption portion has been removed.) If you have any dependents, you will claim them on your federal tax return.

RELATED: Income Tax Basics

4. Report your income for the applicable tax year

You will need to tell the IRS how much money you earned during the year so you can calculate how much you owe in taxes, if anything. Most people can simply review their Form W-2s (Wage and Tax Statements) to determine their annual income. This can get slightly more complicated if you have worked more than one job during the year. If you work as a freelancer / independent contractor, you will be provided Form 1099-MISC by your employer(s), which will indicate how much income you earned. Also note that individuals who are self-employed will likely have to spend more time on this part of the filing process.

RELATED: How to Determine Your Income Tax Bracket

5. Claim eligible tax credits and deductions

If you qualify for any tax credits or tax deductions, you will want to take advantage of them. Tax deductions reduce your taxable income and tax credits reduce the actual amount of tax that you owe. Both types of tax breaks will increase your chance of receiving a tax refund. Make sure you understand how to properly claim any income tax benefits, as mistakes will delay the processing of your return. If you are preparing your own income tax return, you may order IRS tax forms (and publications) for delivery by U.S. mail or you can access the forms online.  All of the documents that you will need to file your federal income tax return should be available on the IRS website.

Federal Income Tax Forms

There are currently 2 different individual income tax return forms available:

Form 1040 (U.S. Individual Income Tax Return)

Most people will use this form to file their federal income taxes.

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Form 1040-SR (U.S. Tax Return for Seniors)

This form is an optional alternative for seniors (age 65 or older) to use to file their federal income taxes

>> Click HERE to file your federal income tax return.

RELATED: Common Tax Questions & Answers


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