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Your Tax Return in Four Steps

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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 paperwork 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.


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...


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, (this is 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 frequently offer free basic online tax filing services for people who wish to file simple tax returns, however there may be a filing fee.

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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 tax 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

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

Checking on the status of your tax refund

You should be able to check the status of your refund through the IRS web tool "Where's My Refund." If you e-file, allow 36 hours for your information to appear and about three weeks to get your refund.

You’ll need your Social Security number, your filing status and the exact amount of your expected refund to use the tool.

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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