11 Easy Tax Preparation Tips

For many of us, tax season can be really stressful. Where did I put those W-2s? Why won’t my financial interest statements download (said every procrastinator at 11:45 PM on tax day)? The list goes on and on, and I know you know what I’m talking about! Hopefully, the following tips will help.

  1. If you use a tax preparer, get a detailed list from them of exactly what they need from you AND what the drop-dead date is to have the information to them. This helps eliminate second-guessing, especially if it’s going to take you a little time to pull those items together. The last thing you want is to try and figure out what your tax preparer needs when it’s the day they need it and you can’t reach them to ask questions.
  2. If you can, get the information to your tax preparer a day or two before the drop-dead date above. This gives both of you a cushion in case there’s anything additional that’s needed, or your tax preparer needs to reach you for some reason.
  3. There is no need to panic every time tax season rolls around. Whether you prepare your own taxes or use a tax preparer, pull your return from the previous year or even a few previous years. This is probably the best guide for helping you determine what information you need for the current year. After all, unless it’s the very first time you have ever filed a tax return, you should be pretty familiar with this process by now.
  4. As you gather information on tax year 2023, create a folder called “Tax Year 2023” and place all of your items in that folder. At the SAME TIME, create another folder called “Tax Year 2024” and then create a list of each of the items you put in tax year 2023’s folder. Place that in the 2024 folder. Now you have your list of items ready to go for next year. What a concept!
  5. Use the previous year’s tax return to create your own checklist of items you need to gather, download, or access. Set yourself a deadline to accomplish this task, giving yourself a day or so cushion to account for unexpected issues.
  6. Designate a special place where all information that comes in regarding your taxes is kept. If it’s hard copies that come in the mail, put it in a basket or file designated only for that purpose. Place it where you will see it every day and won’t have to wonder where you put it. If it’s electronic information, create a file that resides on your desktop screen where you see it all the time. (And if you really want to be organized, scan the mailed items into your electronic folder.) As new items come through your email, move them to the electronic folder.
  7. Download the items you need from various institutions NOW. If you’re trying to access the information the day before taxes must be filed, how many other people do you think are doing the same thing? Excessive demand on these institutions’ servers can lead to all kinds of problems, including slow downloads, unsuccessful repeated attempts, total inaccessibility or a complete shutdown of the server. This is not a position you want to be in.
  8. Unless you enjoy sitting in a line of cars at the post office waiting to deposit your tax return so that it’s timely date-stamped, why not file online? There are many options for self-preparation and filing, some of them at no cost (or for a nominal fee). Services such as Turbo Tax and H&R Block will even double-check your tax return before it’s filed to see if your return is correct and whether there are any additional tax advantages you can benefit from.
  9. If you do plan to mail your tax return, get the envelope ready ahead of time and leave it in a place where you will see it constantly. This is a great reminder to get your taxes done!
  10. Many people no longer use checks; rather, they conduct the majority of their transactions electronically. If you know ahead of time that you will owe additional taxes instead of receiving a refund, be sure you have the funds set aside to transmit electronically or to be able to cover a check/secure a money order.
  11. Again, tax season is no reason to panic. If you know you will be unable to meet the tax deadline, look into requesting an extension to file. This is a simple process that gives you some breathing room and time to collect what you need to file your return.

For more resources, see the following.

  • The IRS just launched a new program that allows you to file your 2023 federal taxes online, for free, directly with the IRS. You’ll receive step-by-step guidance and live online support from IRS staff. https://directfile.irs.gov/
  • The CalFile Program allows you to file your California State tax return directly to the Franchise Tax Board for free. You’ll get real-time confirmation and the fastest refund possible. https://www.ftb.ca.gov/file/ways-to-file/online/calfile/index.asp
  • The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program offers free tax help to people who generally make $64,000 or less, persons with disabilities, or limited English-speaking taxpayers. In addition, the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Program offers free tax help for those who are 60 years of age and older, specializing in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors. https://www.irs.gov/individuals/free-tax-return-preparation-for-qualifying-taxpayers


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