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How to File Taxes » How to File Taxes



Taxes are one of the few certainties of life and proper tax planning can significantly boost how much money you have saved for emergencies and even retirement. Filing taxes can be its own challenge–what with the IRS having over 400 forms, all with names comprised of seemingly random combinations of letters and numbers.  This guide will help you learn how to file income taxes accurately and optimally.

Key tax filing deadlines

When is the 2024 tax season? – January 29, 2024 – April 15, 2024

When can you file taxes? – The earliest that taxes can be filed is January 3, 2024, when IRS Free File opens. Returns will be held till the 2024 tax season officially begins.

When is the last day to do taxes? – Typically, taxes are due by the 15th of April.

Finding the best tax professional

You don’t need to be wealthy or own a large business to benefit from hiring the right tax professional. For some people, preparing taxes can be stressful or complicated. The simplest way is to ask for a referral. If you have friends, family members, or coworkers who have dealt with your particular situation, ask them what service they use and if you are happy with it. also provides a list of where you can go for free tax advice. You can also always head to your nearest search engine and look up reviews.

If you head for a retail tax franchise, ask if you can meet with a tax attorney, certified public accountant (CPA), or an enrolled agent (EA).

  • Enrolled agents specialize in specific tax areas and are best for dealing with complex tax situations.
  • On the other hand, CPAs specialize in areas that are specific to accounting.
  • Tax attorneys are best for more complex matters like real estate tax returns.

5 key questions to answer as you decide how to file taxes

As those W-2s or 1099s start making their way to your mailbox, you may start wondering how to file your taxes. Often people will take a crack at filing their taxes themselves so they can save a few bucks. But then you may be stumped with your filing status, or what tax bracket you may fall in. That’s why we’re here to help.

What filing status should I choose?

It can be confusing trying to figure out which status you fall under. If you’re unmarried, you may automatically think to apply under single. But if you’re paying for at least half the support of children, or parents, you would actually file under the head of household status. If you’re married, you might be wondering whether to file jointly or separately.

To help answer all your burning questions, we’ve broken it down:

Filing statusWho is it for
Head of householdUnmarried people who pay for at least half the cost of housing and support for children under the of age 19 or 24 if they’re still a student; parents; siblings; or in-laws.
Married filing separatelyMarried high-income earners; people who are in the process of divorce and believe their spouses may lie about their income; people whose spouses have tax liability issues.
Married filing jointlyMost married couples. You can file a joint return even if one of you had no income or deductions. If your spouse dies during the tax year, you will still be eligible to file jointly in that year. For the following two years, you can use the qualified widow or widower status, but only if you have a dependent child.
Qualified widow or widowerPeople who have recently lost a spouse and are supporting a child at home. If the child is out of the house when the spouse dies, this status will not work.
SingleUnmarried people who do not qualify for any other filing status.

You can also always make use of the IRS Interactive Tax Assistant to help you determine your filing status.

What tax bracket am I in?

Federal tax brackets are broken down into seven taxable income groups depending on your filing status. Keep in mind that the tax rate you pay is dependent on your taxable income, which is the income you make after all deductions have been subtracted from your adjusted gross income for the year.

And the IRS announced there would be higher federal income tax brackets and standard deductions. The IRS has boosted income thresholds for each bracket to help counteract the effects of inflation, says Josh Zimmelman, managing director of Westwood Tax & Consulting.

Income thresholds for most tax brackets have increased, so taxpayers who earned a bit more this year than last year are less likely to move into a higher income tax bracket (with a higher tax rate).

Josh Zimmelman, Managing Director of Westwood Tax & Consulting

2023 Tax Brackets: Taxes due in April 2024

2023 Tax RateSingle FilersMarried Individuals Filing JointlyMarried Individuals Filing SeparatelyHeads of Households
10%$0 – $11,000$0 – $22,000$0 – $11,000$0 – $15,700
12%$11,001 – $44,725$22,001 – $89,450$11,001 – $44,725$15,701 – $59,850
22%$44,726 – $95,375$89,451 – $190,750$44,725 – $95,375$59,850 – $95,350
24%$95,376 – $182,101$190,751 – $364,200$95,376 to $182,100$95,351 – $182,100
32%$182,101 – $231,250$364,201 – $462,500$182,101 – $231,250$182,201 – $231,250
35%$231,251 – $578,125$462,501 – $693,750$231,251 – $346,875$231,251 – $578,100
37%$578,126 or more$693,751 or more$346,876 or more$578,101 or more

Source: Internal Revenue Service

Estimate your owed federal and state taxes based off your taxable income.

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What tax deductions can I claim?

You can claim the standard tax deduction, or you can itemize your deductions. When it comes to standard tax deductions, as long as you know your status (single, married filing jointly, married filing separately, etc.) you can simply scroll down this list and find out what your deduction is.

However, there are a few limits. If someone claims you as a dependent, your deduction would get reduced. If you are married and filing separately, your standard deduction could be denied as a result of your spouse filing itemized deductions. And if you were the victim of a federally declared disaster, your standard deduction could potentially increase.

On the other hand, itemized tax deductions are somewhat more difficult because they are more labor-intensive. The way it works is instead of claiming one deduction you would go item by item. If you are doing your taxes on your own, you should choose itemized deductions if they will be larger than the standard deduction. And if you are using a software program to do your taxes, the tax software will pick the best refund option for you.

The following can be itemized:

  • State and local taxes (limited to $10,000)
  • Home mortgage interest
  • Real estate property taxes
  • Private property taxes
  • Casualty and theft losses
  • Work-related expenses
  • Medical expenses
  • Charitable contributions
  • Miscellaneous deductions

What are my tax credits?

Depending on your financial situation, tax credits may allow you to take even more money off of your taxes. There are quite a few ways to claim tax credits. If you’re a parent, you can qualify for an additional child tax credit (ACTC). If you’re a student, you could be eligible for student tax credits. And if you’re elderly or if you have a disability, you may receive a tax credit. You can also claim tax credits for earned income, known as the earned income tax credit (EITC).

However, if you are claiming the additional child tax credit (ACTC) or if you are trying to claim the earned income tax credit (EITC), you could face a delay should you file your taxes early. Under the new tax reform law, any refunds that are claiming these credits cannot be issued until mid-to-late February.

If you’re unsure of what tax credits you may qualify for, see what you may be eligible to use here. It’s always better to be safe than to lose any money by failing to claim a tax credit!

What are my tax exemptions?

For filing in 2024, the personal tax exemption remains at 0, as it was in 2023 because of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The good news is that you won’t have to deal with this facet of your taxes. The bad news is that you won’t get any personal tax exemptions.

Determining Adjusted Gross Income (AGI)

If you’re trying to figure out your adjusted gross income, you can calculate it by adding up all your income and subtracting all deductions and related payments. Gross income includes wages, dividends, any capital gains, business income, retirement distributions as well as other forms of income. Adjustments to income include student loan interest, alimony payments, or contributions to certain retirement accounts, such as a 401(k) or traditional IRA.

Example: Dorothea is a teacher who brought home $50,000 in gross wages last year. She spent $1,000 on supplies for the classroom. So, Dorothea’s adjusted gross income would be $49,000.

Self-employed individuals will have to use their 1099 form plus any non-1099 income to calculate total wages. If you offered any discounts to customers during the year, you’ll have to deduct that number from your calculated income. Why? Because the IRS considers coupons and discounts as “returns and allowances.”

Example: Sophia is self-employed. The total amount of her services reported on her 1099 form is $45,000. She offered two clients discounts of $500 each. She also paid $4,000 in health insurance last year. So, her AGI would come out to $40,000.

If you’re filing online, you won’t need to worry about calculating your AGI because the software will do it for you. And if you hire a tax preparer, they will also calculate your adjusted gross income as part of the process.

After you file taxes

Now that you’ve filed your taxes, you may feel a sense of relief. And though sometimes the best part of filing your taxes is simply being done with it, there are a few more steps you need to take once your return is complete. Take a gander at some of the steps we have listed. Not only will you save time and effort, but you might even make out with more money on your tax returns.

Getting a tax refund

After filing taxes, many taxpayers get anxious about where their refunds might be. Generally, the IRS states that most taxpayers will receive their refunds within 21 days of filing. If you file electronically and sign up for a direct deposit, you may get your refund in as little as 14 days. But that is not always a guarantee because certain factors can delay refunds. And when you do get your refund, be sure to use your tax refund wisely.

Filing MethodHow soon can you check your tax return status?When can you expect your tax refund?
e-file24 hoursUsually within 21 days
File by mail4 weeks6-8 weeks

Owing taxes

Even if you cannot afford to pay your taxes, you still need to make sure you file them. The penalty for not filing is ten times the penalty for not paying. Once you’ve filed and you find that you owe taxes, know that paying by the deadline can actually save you money. Should you fail to pay your taxes by the due date, then the amount you owe immediately becomes tax debt. You would start accruing interest and penalties – the IRS levies late filing and failure to pay penalties – that could make paying more difficult.

Filing taxes late

If you’re behind schedule, you can use IRS Form 4868 to file a tax extension. This form is used to request an extension to your deadline. If you have reasonable cause for filing late, you can avoid late filing fees altogether.

Carlos Samaniego, Founder of Tax Debt Consultants LLC., says to file your taxes even when you are unable to pay because the penalties could force you down a deeper debt hole.

The worst thing a taxpayer can do is file a late tax return. The penalties can go up to 5% of the amount due for each month it is late. File your return even if you can’t pay to avoid the late file penalty.

Carlos Samaniego, Founder of Tax Debt Consultants LLC

However, be aware that if you file for an extension and don’t make the deadline in October, you will be charged a failure-to-pay fee. This fee is 5% of your unpaid taxes for every single month, compared to only half of 1% if you had filed.

So, even if you’re unable to pay your full tax amount on time, file anyway. Because the penalties for failing to file are worse than the penalties for failing to pay. And those penalties start accruing right away. Filing in October won’t delay the penalties. They will be retroactively applied from April.

Tax changes for 2024

There were a few changes added in 2023 for tax returns filed in 2024. The standard deduction for married couples filing jointly increases to $27,700. Single taxpayers and married filing separately standard deduction is now $13,850. And heads of households will see the standard deduction increase to $20,800 in 2024.

There has been a slight increase to the maximum Earned Income Tax Credit. For this tax year is now $7,430 for taxpayers who qualify with three or more children. There will be a slight jump of $20 to the “monthly limitation for the qualified transportation fringe benefit and parking” is now $300.

Filers who contribute to health flexible spending arrangements will see an increase in their “dollar limitation for employee salary reductions” to $3,050. The maximum carryover for cafeteria plans that allow carryover of unused amounts went up $40 to $610.

The deductibles for self-only coverage in Medical Savings Accounts has increased. This list shows the changes:

  • $2,650 – up $200
  • $3,950 – up $250

Maximum out-of-pocket expenses have also increased $350 to $5,300.

The annual deductible for those with self-only coverage in a Medical Savings Account with family coverage increased to “not less than $5,300” from $4,950 last tax filing year. The IRS notes the deductible “cannot be more than $7,900.” And the “out-of-pocket expense limit is $9,650” this year.

The foreign earned income exclusion is now $120,000. Basic exclusions of “Estates of decedents who die during 2023” is up to $12,920,000. Annual gift exclusion is now $17,000. And the maximum credit allowed for adoptions is $15,950.

For more information on tax changes visit the IRS website.

Tips for filing taxes

If you’re looking for a few tips and tricks for filing your taxes, you’ve come to the right place. We know of a few clever ways you can get more bang for your buck:

  • You might be able to claim a home office deduction and even deduct the cost of painting your home office.
  • If your employer paid you while you were on jury duty and required that you hand over your jury duty pay from the court, you will be able to claim the amount you handed over as an adjustment to your income.
  • If you’re self-employed, you may be able to qualify for deductions through any necessary purchases you need to make for the business.
  • You may qualify for the Lifetime Learning Credit if you’re in graduate school or beyond. This will allow you to claim 20% of your qualified costs up to $10,000, or a $2,000 maximum per tax return, depending on your income.
  • A lot of people often choose a standard deduction because it’s less hassle. But if you can itemize, choose that option because you could make out with a bigger refund.
  • Scrutinize the IRS guidelines thoroughly because you might be entitled to deductions you’ve never even seen or heard of.
  • If you have been financially supporting a vulnerable friend or an elderly family member, you may claim them as a dependent.
  • If you can, contribute to tax-deferred retirement accounts so you can reduce your taxable income.

Tax filing FAQ

What should I do if I haven’t received my W-2?

If you have not received your W-2 yet, contact your employer and ask them for a copy. Make sure they have your correct address. If you’re unable to get your W-2 from your employer, you can contact the IRS at 800-TAX-1040. From there, the IRS will contact your employer and request the missing form.

If you still don’t have your W-2 Form after contacting the IRS, you have two options:

File your return by April 15 and use Form 4852, Substitute for Form w-2, Wage and Tax Statement. You’ll need to estimate your wages and withholdings to the best of your ability.

Ask for more time to file by submitting a Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. You can file the request electronically as well.

How much do I have to make to file taxes?

There is no minimum income requirement to file your taxes. You can make nothing in a year and still file. And in 2022, you may want to do that to claim some of the credits available because of the pandemic. For instance, you can claim the Recovery Rebate Credit and the expanded Child Tax Credit this year.
However, you are not required to file taxes if you make less than a certain amount:

How should I pay my taxes?

There are a few ways you can pay your taxes:

You can pay using your bank account when you e-file your returns.

You can also pay directly from a checking or savings account for free.

Credit and debit cards are also acceptable ways to pay online or by phone.

The IRS will let you make cash payments with participating retail partners. Visit gov/paywithcash for more instructions.

You may be eligible for monthly payments, but you must file all required tax returns first. Then you can apply for an installment agreement through the Online Payment Agreement.

When are state taxes due?

The state income tax deadline for most states is April 15, 2024.

What happens if I forgot a deduction when I filed?

You may end up owing more taxes than you’re actually liable for if you forget about a deduction. The IRS does not automatically flag a missed deduction. So, if you realize you’ve made a mistake, file a Form 1040-X to fix any mistakes.

What if I need to file an amended tax return?

Currently, only tax years 2021, 2022, and 2023 can be amended electronically. Also, only 1040, 1040-SR, and 1040SS/PR returns can be amended electronically.
Amended returns that are older than the current and prior two tax periods must be filed by paper.
If you need to amend your tax returns, you can now file using the Form-1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Tax Return using electronic tax software products. If you are amending a prior year’s return, and your original return for that year was filed by paper during the current processing year, then you’ll also need to file an amended return by paper.

How do I get help with a tax audit?

If you are seeking help with a tax audit, your best bet is to hire a qualified, well-rated tax professional to help with your taxes. A professional will make sure everything is correct and that the IRS gets all the right information they need. But you can take it one step further and make it easier for your tax professional by making sure you have the necessary documentation.

Keep these documents safe:


Tax returns filed in the past 3 years

Evidence of claimed deductions

Receipts for big purchases

Any other supporting documentation


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