Well, it’s here again. Tax season is inevitable, as the old saying goes, and this article will give a brief primer on the top ten things you should know about tax season, including why filing is important, how life changes can affect your taxes, and, of course, penalties you can incur if you run afoul of the IRS.
Top Ten Tax Things to Know
Coming in at number ten (though it could fall anywhere on this list) is e-filing. E-filing is a good way to save money, as opposed to doing your taxes on paper and mailing them in via snail mail. You can use tax software (like that at H&R Block, for example) to help you save time, trees, and, most importantly, money.
9. Always Look for Exemptions
Being married and having kids are two major examples of exemptions. Chances are, even if you don’t fit into either category, you might fall into an exemption that will save you money. For example, if you fall into a lower tax bracket, you might be eligible to save on your taxes. Taking your time to find out whether you can save is a wise idea.
8. Three Words: Adjusted Gross Income
That’s what really matters. Your AGI (Adjusted Gross Income) is the number you get after the government subtracts expenses, like IRA contributions or education tuition. AGI determines credits and deductions we can take. After deducting those, we get our taxable income. The word “AGI” is all over your tax forms because it is really important at the end.
7. Credits = Money Saved
Exemptions and credits are not the same thing, even though they’re both good. An exemption reduces your taxable income. Credits actually reduce how much taxes you owe. Credits are simple to understand: a credit is money you don’t have to hand over to the government.
6. Standard Deduction
Standard and itemized deductions are always somewhat of a source of confusion for people. Here are brief definitions for both. First, a standard deduction is worth somewhere between $5,800 and $11,600. If you have simple taxes, you don’t have to go through a huge process to get deductions. A standard deduction is just a reduction off your taxable income. It’s a flat number. You take it, and you pay less.
5. Itemized Deduction
…Which then brings us to itemized deductions. For itemized deductions, you will need to list out each deduction you can take. If your itemized deductions together equal more than your standard deduction, this is the deduction you take. Examples of itemized deductions include charitable donations, mortgage interest payments, and medical expenses.
4. Why Filing Is Important (AKA Don’t Procrastinate)
Filing is important because there’s no way around it if you make over a certain amount. Because figuring out what exemptions you qualify for and what deductions to take might take some time and digging, you should get started ASAP, not on April 15th or the day before.
3. Ok, So You Procrastinated
However, someone is always going to procrastinate for whatever reason, and the IRS knows that. You can file for an extension if you need more time. This is not a good idea if you’re putting it off because you don’t have the cash to pay it. If finances are the issue, you can use a credit card (if your bill is low) or go on a payment plan.
If you don’t pay your taxes, bad stuff can happen. The IRS will send you some scary letters and charge you fees for not paying. In very extreme cases (the big-name, Al Capone tax evasion cases), you can even do prison time. If you’re having trouble paying, you can talk to the IRS about a payment plan. They will take it easy on you if you do that, but not if you simply don’t pay.
1. Don’t Mess Up Your Filing Status
If you get one thing right out of this entire process, it needs to be your filing status. This is the question on the tax form that asks you if you’re single, married, etc. This status will affect how much you pay, and getting it wrong will be a huge hassle.