Tax Filing Checklist

Ed note: It’s easy to get lost in the details of taxes. Use these tips to help you focus on the big picture and break down your preparation into manageable chunks. Leer en español.

It’s that time again – tax season. If you are just getting your tax documents together and figuring out what to do next, here is a handy checklist to help you keep everything organized.

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 1. Schedule a Time to Prepare Your Taxes

The first item on your list is to decide whether you’ll prepare your own tax returns. If you plan to hire a professional tax preparer, schedule an appointment and understand what information you’ll need to collect by using something like H&R Block’s Personal Tax Prep Checklist.

If you plan to prepare your own returns – first decide whether to use tax preparation software. If you do, it’s worth spending some time comparing your options to choose the best tool for your specific circumstances. Second, create a deadline so you have something to work toward.

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2. Gather Your Documentation

Before you start, read through the tax return form to figure out which schedules and additional forms you will need. This infographic gives you a great visual of which documents you’ll need to have.

Then get all of your tax documents together in one place. These documents generally come from one of two sources. First, you likely already have some of the material you’ll need. For example, you’ll need Social Security numbers for anyone claimed on your tax form, from you and your spouse to your children and other dependents. You may be able to pull this information from last year’s returns. You may also have business receipts, investment documents, and other material received throughout the year.

Second, you’ll receive important tax documents, like a W-2 or 1099, in the mail early in 2014, in addition to other forms from financial institutions, brokers and employers.

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3. Check for New Tax Rules

The tax laws are always changing. Make sure you understand what tax credits and deductions are available to you, as well as what other changes might have been made. H&R Block has created a summary of some of the more significant changes for 2013, which you can find here.

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4. Try Different Scenarios

As you’re filling out your tax return, don’t be afraid to try different scenarios. Figure out whether you could get a bigger deduction by itemizing instead of settling for the standard deduction. Your tax software or your tax professional can help you try different scenarios to get the best overall result for your situation.

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5. Choose Direct Deposit

If you have a refund coming, choose direct deposit if you can – you might only have to wait seven to 14 days with direct deposit versus up to eight weeks for other methods.

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6. File Electronically

Ensure faster processing by filing your tax return electronically. You can do this yourself or have your tax preparer do it on your behalf. This will also get your refund to you more quickly.

And of course, if you have questions about your refund or return, you can talk with a tax pro or contact the IRS.

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