Your Tax Return in 4 Steps

Getting a tax refund can be a great feeling, but starting the process of gathering the required documentation and filing your return can be less enjoyable. 

To help, we’ve outlined four steps that are essential to getting your paper work done and done. 

Step 1: Gather your tax documents

Information and documents you may need to complete your taxes:

Social Security numbers or tax ID numbers and birthdates for yourself and, if applicable, spouse and dependents

Wage and earnings statements such as W-2s 

Proof of health insurance 

The amount you paid any childcare providers

A record of contributions to tax-deferred accounts

If you plan to itemize: documents that will support your deductions 

If you have a mortgage: a mortgage interest statement 

If you have student loans: statements from your student loan provider detailing how much you paid in interest

Organizations like your employer, banks, financial and student loan companies are required to send you the necessary forms to use when filing your tax returns by January 31. 

You may receive some of your statements by mail and others electronically.

Step 2: Prepare your taxes

If you decide to use a tax professional, you still need to pull together the documents in Step 1.

Tax preparers will get busy during tax filing season, so try to get your documents together as soon as possible so you can make an appointment. The longer you wait to get started, the longer it may take them to prepare and file your taxes and for you to get your refund.

If you decide to prepare your own taxes, the IRS offers resources and e-books on filing Form 1040, the form used to file an individual tax return.

Note: that beginning in tax year 2018, Form 1040A and 1040EZ have now been redesigned into one Form 1040.

There are also many popular tax preparation software packages that can guide you through the process of preparing your taxes. These software providers frequently offer free basic online tax filing services for people who wish to file simple tax returns, however there may be a filing fee.

Step 3: File your taxes

E-filing is the fastest way to submit your return; the IRS processes most returns within three weeks of receiving an electronic return. 

You can also mail your paper return to the IRS. It can take six to eight weeks to process a paper return.

Step 4: Receive your refund

If you’re eligible for a refund, how you choose to receive your refund can determine how quickly it takes for the money to reach you after it’s released by the IRS. 

Direct Deposit is the faster way to get your tax refund

The IRS electronically deposits your return into your bank account. It can take about 21 days for the IRS to process your refund and a few more days for your bank to process the payment and post it to your account.

Getting a check in the mail may take longer

And you also run the risk of your check going missing, getting stolen, or returned to the IRS as undeliverable. 

You can follow your tax return’s status

If it’s been longer than 24 hours since you e-filed or about four weeks since you mailed your paper return, you should be able to check on the status of your return through the IRS web tool “Where’s My Refund?” or the app IRS2Go. 

You’ll need your social security number, your filing status and the exact amount of your expected refund to use both IRS tools.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualized professional advice. Articles on this site were commissioned and approved by Marcus by Goldman Sachs®, but may not reflect the institutional opinions of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., Goldman Sachs Bank USA or any of their affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions.