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How to File Taxes: 4 Steps to Get Started

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Tax season isn’t exactly the most fun time of the year. 

Whether you’re going to be filing taxes on your own or hiring a pro, here are four steps that could help you get your taxes done in a timely fashion. 

Step 1: Gather your tax documents

If you have to file a tax return this year, start by gathering your necessary tax documents. Here are some examples: 

  • 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
  • Documents that will support your deductions if you plan to itemize 
  • Mortgage interest statement if you have a mortgage
  • Statements from your student loan provider detailing how much you paid in interest if you have student loans

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. 

How do I know if I need to file taxes? 

Check out the IRS Interactive Tax Assistant tool, which could help you figure out whether you need to submit a tax return. 

Step 2: Prepare your tax return 

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

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).

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

Step 3: File your taxes

E-filing is the faster, safer and more accurate way to file your tax return. The IRS usually processes most returns within three weeks of receiving an electronic return. But it may take a little longer if your return requires additional review.   

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

Step 4: Check your refund status

If you’re eligible for a refund, you can choose how to receive your refund. 

Direct deposit is typically 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 your refund in the mail may take longer

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

How to check your IRS refund 

You can check the status of your refund within 24 hours after the IRS received your e-file return or four weeks after you’ve mailed a paper return.

Visit the IRS webpage “Where’s My Refund?” or the mobile 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 tax advice. Individuals should consult their own tax advisor for matters specific to their own taxes. This article was prepared by and approved by Marcus by Goldman Sachs, but does not reflect the institutional opinions of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., Goldman Sachs Bank USA, Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC or any of their affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions. Goldman Sachs Bank USA and Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC are not providing any financial, economic, legal, accounting, tax or other recommendations in this article. Information and opinions expressed in this article are as of the date of this material only and subject to change without notice. Information contained in this article does not constitute the provision of investment advice by Goldman Sachs Bank USA, Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC or any of their affiliates. Neither Goldman Sachs Bank USA, Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC nor any of their affiliates makes any representations or warranties, express or implied, as to the accuracy or completeness of the statements of any information contained in this document and any liability therefore is expressly disclaimed.

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