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How to File A Quick Tax Return

December 30, 2014 : Kristin Shaw

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Editor’s Note: This post was updated on Nov. 3, 2016.

While e-file doesn’t open until January 20, that’s no reason to sit around and wait. Make it your New Year’s resolution to file your fastest tax return ever. It’ll be a great way to start off the new year. Here’s a step-by-step guide to a quick tax return.

1. Set up a system for success

If you’re old school, you’ll want to invest in accordion-style folders to track every note, record, receipt and form that you’ll need to file your return.

If you prefer to go digital, create a dedicated folder on your machine, or use a cloud service like Dropbox, to house all of the necessary documentation. That way, when you are ready to file, all of the information is in one place and you won’t waste precious time scrambling to find a missing piece of paper.

2. Gather personal information

You’ll need social security numbers (or ITINs), full names, and birthdays for yourself and any family members who will be included on your return.

3. Corral the receipts and records

Receipts are important documentation for several common tax deductions. Here’s a look at a few of the most popular.

  • Charitable deductions: any receipt or letter from the organization detailing cash contributions, donations or a record of mileage driven for charitable purposes
  • Medical deductions: receipts showing amounts paid to doctors, hospitals, dentists or for qualified medical expenses
  • Vehicle deduction: if you use a personal vehicle for business purposes, gather a log showing miles driven (other than commuting), the purpose for each trip, amount of parking and tolls paid, receipts for maintenance and upkeep like gas, oil changes, car washes, licenses, personal property tax, lease or interest expense
  • Rental property expenses: records of expenses related to the rental property for the year, a log of costs and work performed related to the rental activity and information on the date the property was placed in service
  • Moving expenses not reimbursed by employer where the move is related to the start of a new job and the new job is at least 50 miles further from the old home than the old job was from that home
  • Education credits and deductions: keep records of any scholarships or fellowships, also keep receipts of qualified education expenses

4. List the anticipated forms

There can be a lot of important mail that comes your way in January. Make a checklist so you can easily track when they arrive. Here are some of the most common to look for:

  • Regular income/wages: Form W-2
  • Self-employment and independent contractor income: Form 1099-MISC
  • Tuition payments: Form 1098-T
  • Student loan interest: Form 1098-E
  • Unemployment benefits: Form 1099-G
  • Mortgage interest: Form 1098
  • Social Security income: Form 1099-SSA, RRB-1099
  • Retirement plan and annuity distributions: Form 1099-R
  • Health Insurance Marketplace Statement: Form 1095-A

5. Niche considerations

If you work out of a home office and meet the home office deduction qualifications, you can take note of the exact dimensions of the space. That information can be used to figure your deduction under the safe-harbor method, up to a limit of 300 square feet.

If your hometown, or town where you own property, was declared a federal disaster area, gather documents related to the value of your property, receipts detailing repairs made and documents showing any insurance payments made or pending.

Finally, if you have investments, like IRAs, Health Savings Accounts, stocks and more, you will want to keep track of when you opened those accounts, your initial investment and the sales date and price (if applicable).

While this list isn’t all encompassing for every deduction, credit and form, you’ll be able to file a quick tax return in record time if you do this prep work now.

Did you know you can actually start your tax return using H&R Block’s online program? Go ahead and get started on the basics to make for a quick tax return.

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