As tax season approaches, you may find yourself wondering what your options are for filing a tax return. There are a couple of items we must address first. When is official tax season? What information do you need to gather before you can file your taxes?

The tax filing deadline for most Americans has been postponed to May 17, 2021, from April 15, 2021. Your state deadline may not have changed. Texans affected by the February 2021 winter snowstorms have until June 15, 2021.

Key Takeaways


  • Tax season typically runs from early in the new year to April 15 of the year following the tax year in question.
  • No matter which method of tax filing you choose, you will need to have certain information on hand to prepare your return.
  • The tax documents most needed include W-2 forms and 1099 forms.
  • The three main options for getting your taxes done include paying a tax professional, using tax software, and the do-it-yourself manual method.

When Is the 2020 Tax Season?

"Tax season" for the prior tax year is in the early months of the following year. Tax season usually opens at the end of January. Tax season ends on the tax filing deadline, which is April 15 for most years.

The deadline for filing 2020 individual taxes is Thursday, May 17, 2021, for most Americans (unless you file an extension). Texans affected by the February 2021 snowstorm disaster have until June 15.

In addition to postponing the tax filing deadline, taxpayers can delay payment of money owed to the IRS until then. If you need more time to file, you can request an extension until Oct. 15, 2021, with Form 4868.

“This continues to be a tough time for many people, and the IRS wants to continue to do everything possible to help taxpayers navigate the unusual circumstances related to the pandemic, while also working on important tax administration responsibilities,” said Chuck Rettig, IRS Commissioner.

Information and Forms You Need to File Taxes

No matter what method you choose to file your taxes, there are certain items you will need to have on hand. You need to identify yourself and your dependents. You also need to document your filing status, taxable income, the amount of tax you've already paid, and any deductions and credits you may be eligible for. Here's what you'll need to have handy:

  • Names, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers for yourself, your spouse, and dependents, if any.
  • Form W-2, which you receive from your employer. This reports your income as well as any taxes already paid by your employer on your behalf.
  • Form 1099-NEC (non-employee compensation), which you would receive if you earned more than $600 working for a non-employer person or entity. You'd get this if you worked a contract job or had a side gig.
  • Form 1099-MISC, which you would receive if you earned more than $600 in other income, including rents, prizes, fishing boat proceeds, or crop insurance payments.
  • Form 1099-INT, which you would receive from a bank or other financial institution if you earned more than $10 in interest during the tax year.
  • A record of your retirement account contributions.

If you plan to itemize deductions rather than take the standard deduction, these are the records most commonly needed:

  • Property taxes and mortgage interest paid. This typically appears on a Form 1098, Mortgage Interest Statement, which you will receive from your mortgage lender. If you have no mortgage or do not have an escrow account paying your property taxes, you will need to keep a record of your property tax payments separately.
  • State and local taxes you paid. This is on the W-2 form if you work for an employer. If you are an independent contractor, you will need a record of the estimated tax payments you made quarterly throughout the year.
  • Charitable donations. Charitable donations are a tax-deductible expense; however, the amount you can claim is limited to a percentage of your adjusted gross income (AGI) in most years.
  • Educational expenses. Be aware, if you pay qualifying educational expenses with a student loan, it must be claimed in the year the expenses are made, not in the year the loan proceeds are received or repaid.
  • Unreimbursed medical bills. For 2020, you can deduct the amount of unreimbursed medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of your AGI (the threshold is typically between 7.5% and 10% of AGI in any normal tax year).
  • Last year’s federal and state tax returns.

For the 2020 tax year, due to the pandemic, the charitable contribution limit is suspended. Individuals may deduct up to 100% of their adjusted gross income (AGI) for donations made in 2020. To qualify, they must have been made in cash (not property donations, such as a car, for example) to a qualifying charity.

How to File Taxes?

There are several ways to prepare your taxes. The three main options for tax preparation are a tax professional, tax software, and manually filling out the forms yourself.

Manually fill out forms

You can prepare your federal taxes on your own by downloading and printing the forms on the IRS website and sending the return in, along with a check if you owe a payment.

Another option is to fill out the forms online and submit the return electronically with a credit card payment. All the federal tax forms can be found at IRS.gov.

State income tax forms are usually found on your state's official website.

There is no charge or fee for filing your own taxes. Doing so is a good way to learn more about your financial situation as it forces you to track your transactions, earnings, and spending.

Most people who file their own taxes manually have a simple tax situation, an unchanged tax situation, or a personal interest in the subject. It can take only minutes if you have the right forms on hand.

Use a tax professional

For anyone with a complicated financial situation or a lack of confidence about finances, a tax professional is a better option. Capable tax professionals can help minimize the amount you owe and maximize the deductions you claim. Using a tax professional can pay for itself.

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Tax Software Vs a CPA: Which Is Right For You?

Use tax preparation software

An intermediate option between filing your own taxes and hiring a professional is to use tax preparation software for your federal and state returns. You input your own information, but the software is designed to help you through the process step by step. Professional support may be available online or by phone or both. If you use it for more than one year, the best of these programs automatically fill in your previous year's information.