Have questions about your taxes? You can go to any number of websites for help, but to make sure your information is completely accurate you need to go to irs.gov – the official website of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The website is vast because the United States tax code is so big, and some of the language may be over the head of some readers, but there’s plenty of easy-to-understand information even if you’re not a tax attorney. Here’s some help with navigating the site. (For more, see The Most Helpful Tools on the IRS.gov Website.)
Start by looking at the very top, on the right side above the main menu. “Information For…” allows you to filter the information for your specific needs. If you’re an individual, the homepage becomes catered for you. If you’re a tax professional, business or nonprofit, choose those options for information more tailored to you.
Now check out the top menu. During tax season you may want to start with the “Filing” section. It gives you a step-by-step guide on how to prepare to complete your return, how to complete the forms and submit them, and what to do after you file. The “Payments” tab gives you options to pay any taxes you owe to the IRS; the “Refunds” section allows you to track the status of your refund; and the “Credits & Deductions” gives you information on the many different types of deductions available to you.
The rest of the tabs apply more to situations that come up throughout the year rather than specifically at tax time, but you may find yourself in these sections while preparing your taxes.
Sections for Your Specific Questions
Because the site is so vast, finding the information you’re looking for can be difficult. Here’s where to find information on general topics that might come up during tax time.
Free Tax Preparation Help – Did you know that you may qualify for help with your tax return free of charge? The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program offers free help to people who make $54,000 or less. Click here to learn more and see if you qualify.
Filing Status – You would think that choosing your filing status would be easy. It generally is if you’re single, but if you’re married things are not quite as straightforward. Go to this page to learn more.
Tax Deadlines – Because the normal filing deadline of April 15 falls on a Sunday in 2016 and the District of Columbia will observe Emancipation Day on April 16, filers will have until April 17 to file their returns. Want to learn more about deadlines? Click here.
Find Forms – Because of tax preparation software, you probably won’t need to download and complete many forms unless you’re completing your returns by hand. You may, however, want to look at the forms or read the instructions for each. The IRS website has a page dedicated to the forms and publications. Click here to find the form you’re looking for or look up a certain publication.
Tax Map – The site has a handy feature called the Tax Map. Much like a search engine, simply type one or two words into the search box and then click on the “GO” button. The Tax Map returns better results in many searches than the search engine at the top of the IRS page. Note that the tax map is housed outside of the IRS website, but it is an official IRS product.
Specific Tax Situations
If you’re looking for guidance on certain situations that may apply to you, check the links below.
IRA Rules – Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) are tax-advantaged accounts that allow you to contribute to your retirement without paying all of the taxes that come with traditional investing. You’ll find a lot of information about IRAs on the IRS website, but a great place to start is right here.
401(k) Rules – The 401(k) is another type of tax-advantaged account that allows you to save for retirement more efficiently. It got its name from the section of the tax code that governs the accounts. You probably don’t need to read the actual tax code on the subject. The IRS has a more user-friendly guide to understanding the tax implications of these accounts here.
Standard vs. Itemized Deductions
When you prepare your return you’ll choose between a standard deduction set by the IRS or itemizing – looking at each deduction individually. For information on the standard deduction click here. To learn more about itemized deductions go to these links:
There are many more deductions you may qualify for. If you can’t find what you’re looking for in the above list, go to the Credits & Deductions tab or do a search in the search box at the top of the site for the deduction you need information about.
More officially known as the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare has a whole IRS section dedicated to it. Be particularly careful that you don’t have to pay a penalty for not having coverage. Find more information by clicking here.
Alternative Minimum Tax
Don’t feel bad if you don’t understand the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). Even the IRS says that the easiest way to navigate this complicated topic is to use tax software, but it also has an online guide that walks you through it here.
Information for Homeowners
The IRS has some tax relief to hand out to you if you’re a homeowner. Before filing your taxes read Publication 530. It walks you through what is and what isn’t deductible and offers help on which kinds of records to keep, along with other information. You may also want to read Publication 523 if you’re selling your home, Publication 527 if you own residential rental property, and Publication 547 covering casualties, disasters and thefts.
If You Own a Business
The freelancing and small business lifestyles are alive and well for many Americans, but they complicate things when tax season rolls around. If you’re a small business owner or a freelancer, you probably have to file a Schedule C. (For more, see Filing Taxes as a Freelancer.) There are a couple of variants depending on the makeup of your business. Go to this page to learn more. If you’re looking for more-general information about your small business filing, start with the frequently asked questions page for small business owners.
If you have investments outside of your retirement accounts, you have to pay taxes on the gains. Check out Publication 550 to learn more or go to this page for quick links to other related publications.
The Bottom Line
The IRS site isn’t just helpful during tax time. There’s plenty of information you’ll need throughout the year, especially if you’re a business owner or have other financial situations that make your tax return more complicated. Calling the IRS to receive tax advice probably isn’t going to result in much help. Instead, consult a qualified tax preparer or use one of the popular tax preparation apps and software packages. Top Software to Prepare Taxes Free by April 2016 is a good place to start. Then check out H&R Block vs. Turbo Tax vs. Jackson Hewitt.