Tax preparation season is here. Are you ready?

A young man preps his finances for tax season.

The early bird catches the worm — er, tax return. Check out the steps you can take now to prepare for filing your taxes.

Whether this year was the year you took on a paid (!) internship, landed a steady babysitting gig, or rocked a new part-time job, odds are you’ll need to file taxes for the income you brought in. When you’re prepping for tax season, getting started earlier can definitely be better.

So, to help set yourself up for success, here are some tasks you can take on in January and February before you have to hit the IRS income tax return filing deadline of April 15.

Get your materials together

Your first tax preparation step is gathering all of the paperwork you’ll need to file your return. Make a list of your income sources over the past year: This could be paid internships, part- or full-time jobs, freelance gigs, on-campus work study — anything you received a paycheck or payment for. You will need to report income from all of these sources.

Each of your employers should provide you with a W-2 form that reports your annual wages as well as the amount the employer withheld for federal and state income taxes.

If you do freelance work, such as writing for a website or tutoring with a temporary staffing service, you’ll likely get a 1099 form.

If you interned over the past year, you’ll get either a W-2 or 1099 — it varies by employer. Make sure you have these forms by the end of January, or you’ll need to follow up with your employer.

If you have interest-earning accounts or dividend-paying investments, gather the tax forms for those, too.

At the same time, gather any other relevant tax documents you may have — like that receipt for the couch you donated to charity or the statement from your college loan provider about the interest you paid the prior year.

Make sure to check for errors

Once you receive tax documents for all the jobs you held or did in the past year, double-check the forms and make sure that all the information and digits (such as your Social Security number) are correct. Do this now so you aren’t scrambling in April.

While you have all your documents and receipts out, go ahead and organize them. Start a folder for any physical documents or scan and save everything to a secure space in the cloud. The IRS has up to seven years to audit returns, and it’s vital to have proof of all your tax-related transactions until then.

Figure out how you want to file

Now that you have things organized, it’s time to figure out how exactly you’d like to file your taxes. Didn’t know there was more than one way? There are actually three typical ways. You’ll need to do some research to figure out which option works best for you, but for now, here are some methods to consider:

  • For federal taxes, you may be able to use the IRS’ Free File option. If you make less than $66,000 per year, this option could be the best one for you. According to the site, 70% of all taxpayers — 100 million people — can file their federal taxes for free using this program. Some states may be part of an alliance that offers Free File for your state return, too. Be sure to check online to see what your state offers.
  • Leave it to the pros. If you don’t want to use a DIY tax software product, you can always consider hiring a tax professional. That’s right: a real, live person to help you file your taxes. If your taxes are complicated — for example, if you’re self-employed or if you earned money in multiple states — it can be helpful to go to a tax professional. It’ll cost you, but knowing your taxes have been expertly (and easily) filed can be worth it.

One added note: You may have to file a third income tax return to your city or county. The Tax Foundation lists the 17 states where local income taxes could apply to you. Some DIY software includes the tools you need to file these returns.

Getting your tax preparation plan together as early as possible is always a good idea. Now that you’ve gathered your paperwork, checked for errors, and figured out which filing method works best for you, you’re ready to take on tax season.

Get ideas on what to do with your tax refund, from saving it to investing in yourself.

Want to read more about understanding taxes?

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