Most Americans didn’t have a high school class on how to pay taxes. This can cause some fear around tax time, especially for first-time taxpayers.
But it may be easier than you think to file, with some relatively simple guidance. Start by getting all your tax documents in order, and for first-timers, that is probably a pretty short list of paperwork.
- Gather all your tax documents at hand before you file your initial tax return.
- IRS Free File offers guided tax prep and fillable forms online.
- Understand the deductions and credits you are eligible for.
- File your tax return by the deadline in mid-April, and consider using tax software or a tax professional for peace of mind.
- Be aware of whether your parents are able to claim you as a dependent.
Make Sure You Have All Your Tax Documents
To reduce the risk of having to amend your tax return in the near future, you should have all your tax documents in your possession before you file your first tax return. What documents should you be on the lookout for? If you have a typical job, your employer will send you a Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement around the end of January in the year following the tax year in question. That means you should receive tax documents for 2023 in January 2024, for example.
If you are self-employed or have a freelance job in the gig economy, customers who have paid you more than $600 in the previous tax year will send you a Form 1099-NEC around the end of January. You will have to include income reported to you on a Form 1099-NEC on Schedule C, Profit or Loss from Business, which accompanies your tax return.
Forms W-2 and 1099-NEC are the two major tax documents for income you’ve received throughout the previous year, but you may have others. You may receive a Form 1099-INT, Interest Income from your bank if you had more than $10 of interest in your bank account during the year. If you’re a student enrolled in an eligible educational institution, you may receive a Form 1098-T, Tuition Statement from your school.
Most tax documents are due to you as the taxpayer by the end of January, or a few days later if the tax documents were mailed to you. If you think you should have received a tax document from a business, school, or financial institution, reach out to them directly if you haven’t received it by early February.
Understand Your Potential Deductions and Credits
Tax deductions lower your taxable income, which in turn lowers the total amount of tax you owe. Tax credits directly reduce the amount of tax you owe, dollar for dollar. Some tax credits can even reduce your total tax to less than zero, resulting in a payout of the additional amount to the taxpayer. This type of tax credit is called a refundable tax credit. A nonrefundable tax credit can only reduce your tax to zero, and any additional amount beyond that is forfeited. See examples of common tax credits below.
You can take the standard deduction or itemize your deductions. As a first-time taxpayer, you will likely want to take the standard deduction, which is $13,850 for single taxpayers and $27,700 for those married filing jointly in 2023. Itemized deductions are more beneficial if you have major expenses such as real estate taxes, mortgage interest, and charitable gifts that add up to an amount greater than the standard deduction.
If you are self-employed or freelance, you may be eligible for the deduction for business use of a home. You can take the deduction whether you own or rent your home, as long as you use your home office as your principal place of business and use it exclusively for conducting business.
Common tax credits you may qualify for include the Earned Income Tax Credit, American Opportunity Tax Credit, and Lifetime Learning Credit.
File Your Tax Return
The final step is to actually file your tax return. There are several options available to you. You can use a tax professional, such as a certified public accountant (CPA) or an enrolled agent (EA), to file your tax return for you. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has a directory of everyone who has a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN), and you can use the tool to search for a nearby tax preparer.
You can also use tax preparation software, such as H&R Block Online or TurboTax, or there are tax apps to file your taxes from your mobile devices. You can even file the return yourself using the IRS’s own Free File service if you meet the necessary criteria. It was designed specifically for taxpayers with modest income and straightforward tax situations, and it offers guided tax prep and fillable forms.
Are Your Parents Claiming You as a Dependent?
You should talk to your parents to determine if they plan to claim you as a dependent on their own tax return. If you are under age 19 at the end of the tax year, or under age 24 and a full-time student, and your parents provide more than half your support, they can likely claim you as a qualifying child.
Additionally, you have to meet the resident requirement of living with your parents for more than half the year, unless your absence is due to illness, kidnapping, education, business, vacation, military service, or incarceration.
If you are permanently and totally disabled, there is no age limit for your parents claiming you as a dependent. If your parents plan to claim you on their return, you should still file your tax return if you made enough money. You will just need to check the box that asks if you can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return.
When Is My Tax Return Due?
In a typical year, the due date for individual taxpayers to file their Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return is April 15 of the following year. If this date falls on a weekend or holiday, then the due date is pushed to the following business day. Taxes for tax year 2022 were due on Tuesday, April 18, 2023. That’s because April 15 was a Saturday in 2023, and the next weekday, April 17, was recognized as a holiday, Emancipation Day, in Washington, D.C.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Refund?
If you file a paper return, you should expect to get a refund within six to eight weeks from the date when the IRS receives your return. If you file electronically, your refund can be issued in as little as three weeks, or even less if you select the direct-deposit option for your tax refund.
The Bottom Line
Filing your first tax return can feel scary, but it doesn’t have to be. To reduce the chance that you may have to file an amended return, make sure you have all your documents before you file. Check with your parents to see if they plan to claim you as a dependent. Know what deductions and tax credits you are eligible for, and file your return electronically if possible.