5 to-do’s be­fore fil­ing your taxes

Make sure you have these items in or­der.

USA TODAY US Edition - - MONEY - Su­san Tompor Detroit Free Press Per­sonal Fi­nance Colum­nist USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

The best way to pre­pare to do your taxes – or even get your taxes done – is to take a deep breath, gather your thoughts and start scram­bling for your pa­per­work.

Your 2018 fed­eral in­come tax re­turn will be un­like much of what you’ve seen in the past. We’re look­ing at a wide ar­ray of ma­jor changes – and plenty of trip­wires – un­der the new tax law.

But some sen­si­ble, first steps can help you fight the anx­i­ety and tackle your taxes.

The tax dead­line is April 15. The ear­li­est the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice will ac­cept re­turns is Jan. 28.

Be­fore you even think about try­ing to un­der­stand the new tax rules, though, try to re­mem­ber what’s new in your own life. Did you have a baby in 2018? Buy a new house? Get a new job? Re­tire?

New things in your life last year could mean a whole new set of pa­per­work. Here’s a quick to-do list:

1. Grab a copy of last year’s re­turn

Sure, the tax rules changed dra­mat­i­cally and we’ve got a 1040 form with a new look.

But your old re­turn for the 2017 tax year can be a road map for mak­ing sure you’ve gath­ered all the pa­per­work you need to file your 2018 tax re­turn.

Maybe you took a new job in March or April? Do you have two W-2 forms? The one for your cur­rent job? And the W-2 you need from the old job you worked for a few months?

Cathy An­der­son, owner of An­der­son Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices in Fraser, said of­ten tax fil­ers only show up with one W-2 when they’ve changed jobs in a year. Some for­get to look for the pa­per­work for the old job. You need it.

Your old 1040 might re­mind you that you still don’t have the lat­est 1099-DIV from a mu­tual fund to re­port div­i­dends and cap­i­tal gains. Or maybe you don’t have a 1099-INT from your bank yet.

2. Find valid So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers, IDs

Make sure to have the ac­cu­rate So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers for you and your spouse as well as your chil­dren. Did you have a baby in 2018? You need the new­born’s So­cial Se­cu­rity num­ber for your tax re­turn.

Take along your driver’s li­cense, too. Some tax pre­par­ers will ask you for a driver’s li­cense or state iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­ber to prove you are who you say you are.

In ad­di­tion, some states will re­ject an e-file on a state re­turn if you don’t sub­mit in­for­ma­tion from a driver’s li­cense or state ID. States that cur­rently re­quire driver’s li­cense in­for­ma­tion are: Alabama, Con­necti­cut, New Mex­ico, New York and Ohio, ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can In­sti­tute of CPAs.

Not all states had yet re­leased their 2018 tax forms as of Jan. 16, so more states might be added later to that list, the Amer­i­can In­sti­tute of CPAs warned.

Many states are re­quest­ing, not re­quir­ing, such in­for­ma­tion, which can be en­tered by tax prac­ti­tion­ers through the tax soft­ware that they use. States that re­quest the ID in­for­ma­tion in­clude Louisiana, Ver­mont, Vir­ginia and Illi­nois.

Tur­boTax will re­quest your driver’s li­cense or state ID in­for­ma­tion based on the in­di­vid­ual state rules. Tur­boTax also has a new fea­ture that al­lows new cus­tomers to jump-start their taxes by scan­ning their driver’s li­cense bar code to up­load your name ad­dress, and birth­day with­out te­dious data en­try.

3. See if you can file for free

The IRS site of­fers a “Free File” pro- gram that al­lows tax­pay­ers, de­pend­ing on their in­come, free ac­cess to brand­name tax prod­ucts to pre­pare a fed­eral tax re­turn and file it for free. The pro­gram, which in­cludes 12 part­ners, has re­port­edly been made more con­sumer­friendly to cut out some out­side mar­ket­ing ef­forts.

Free File tax soft­ware is avail­able if your ad­justed gross in­come was

$66,000 or less last year. Some par­tic­i­pants in the pro­gram also of­fer both free fed­eral and state tax prepa­ra­tion to some fil­ers.

For tax­pay­ers who earn more than

$66,000, Free File Fil­l­able Forms are avail­able, as elec­tronic ver­sion of IRS pa­per forms. Those free forms are avail­able when the IRS tax fil­ing sea­son be­gins on Jan. 28.

See irs.gov/freefile.

The new con­sumer pro­tec­tions in­clude: Free File mem­bers will email prior year par­tic­i­pants to wel­come them back but that email can­not con­tain any in­for­ma­tion about other prod­ucts or mar­ket­ing, ex­cept for free or paid state tax prepa­ra­tion ser­vices.

To use Free File, tax­pay­ers must use the IRS.gov site. In some cases, a tax filer may not qual­ify for a spe­cific com­pany’s of­fer in the Free File pro­gram. But the new agree­ment re­quires that the com­pa­nies of­fer tax­pay­ers an easy way to re­turn to the IRS site to see if they qual­ify for any com­pany’s Free File pro­gram.

Sev­eral big names par­tic­i­pate in the pro­gram, in­clud­ing Tur­boTax, H&R Block and TaxSlayer.

Tur­boTax, for ex­am­ple, notes that it of­fers its Tur­boTax Free File pro­gram via the IRS site to tax­pay­ers with an ad­justed gross in­come of $34,000 or less, ac­tive mil­i­tary per­son­nel with ad­justed gross in­come of $66,000 or less, or those who qual­ify for the Earned In­come Tax Credit.

H&R Block of­fers its Free File pro­gram via the IRS site to those with an ad­justed gross in­come of $66,000 or less and your age is be­tween 17 and 51, or you are el­i­gi­ble for the Earned In­come Tax Credit, or you’re ac­tive mil­i­tary with an ad­justed gross in­come of $66,000 or less. H&R Block of­fers free file of a state re­turn, if you qual­ify for the fed­eral re­turn.

4. Take time to re­view a check­list

If you’re work­ing with a tax pro­fes­sional, you might re­ceive a check­list in the mail or via email.

Some sites, such as H&R Block, also pro­vide a check­list that any­one can use to help fig­ure out what in­for­ma­tion they need to com­plete a tax re­turn.

Con­sider things like: a 1099-G if you re­ceived un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits, which are tax­able; a Form 1098 for your mort­gage in­ter­est state­ment; pa­per­work re­lat­ing to re­tire­ment in­come, such as a 1099-R.

If you re­ceive So­cial Se­cu­rity ben­e­fits, watch out for the SSA-1099, which is mailed each Jan­uary so you know how much So­cial Se­cu­rity in­come to re­port on your tax re­turn.

An SSA-1042S is sent to nonci­t­i­zens who live out­side of the United States and re­ceived or re­paid So­cial Se­cu­rity ben­e­fits last year.

If you cur­rently live in the United States and you need a re­place­ment form

SSA-1099 or SSA-1042S, the So­cial Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion al­lows you to go on­line and get an in­stant, print­able re­place­ment form with a my So­cial Se­cu­rity ac­count at www.so­cialse­cu­rity.gov/ my­ac­count.

A re­place­ment SSA-1099 or

SSA-1042S is gen­er­ally avail­able for the pre­vi­ous tax year af­ter Feb. 1. The So­cial Se­cu­rity phone num­ber is 800-772-1213.

5. Know your bank ac­count in­for­ma­tion

Triple-check your bank ac­count num­ber and rout­ing num­ber if you want your tax re­fund di­rectly de­posited into your ac­count.

TOMPOR/DETROIT FREE PRESS

SU­SAN TOMPOR/DETROIT FREE PRESS

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