Common Questions on Filing Taxes for the First Time
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Finishing school and starting to earn a steady income can bring a new feeling of financial freedom. But it also comes with financial responsibilities, like filing and paying your taxes.

While filing taxes for the first time can seem complicated, it doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are answers to some of the most common questions of first-time tax filers.

Which Tax Form Do I File?

It depends on your circumstances, but most first-timers file a 1040-EZ, as in “easy.” This is the simplest way to file taxes for those who take the standard deduction that most filers are entitled to. This deduction reduces the amount of income on which you are taxed.

In some cases, itemizing your deductions will allow you to reduce your taxable income by a larger amount than the standard deduction. In this case, itemized deductions go on Schedule A of the standard Form 1040. If you decide to list individual tax deductions against your salary, you’ll need records to prove the amount you paid on qualifying expenses, such as student loan interest, job search-related travel, non-reimbursed employee business expenses, and charitable contributions paid via payroll (shown on pay stubs).

If you have a more complicated financial situation, you may need to use another form. For example, if you have children, have income beyond wages, receive unemployment compensation, or gain more than $1,500 annually from bank account interest, check with the IRS to see which form you should use.

Whichever form you use, before you file, make copies of the forms you are submitting and your personal documents for your records. They can also act as a template for future filings. Download all forms at http://www.irs.gov/Forms-&-Pubs .

What Forms Do I Need to Prepare My Taxes?

In late January or early February, you’ll receive the tax information you need to fill in your tax forms from various sources.

If you are a full- or part-time employee, a W-2 from your employer will outline your salary, plus any taxes withheld. Boxes on this form are labeled with numbers that correspond to the tax forms you’ll need to fill out. Each tax form will tell you where to look on your W-2 to find the necessary information.

If you are self-employed as a freelancer or independent contractor, you will probably need a 1099-MISC from each person or business that paid you for your work during the previous year. Since it is likely that no taxes were withheld, these statements probably list only earnings. You’ll probably need to file a Schedule C form, too.

If you are in business for yourself, work as an independent contractor or sole proprietor, or are a member of a partnership that carries on a trade of business, learn more about self-employment taxes.

If you have earned income from interest-bearing accounts, you’ll need a 1099-INT form from each bank (or other source of that income). You may also need tax documents that highlight student loan interest you’ve paid (Form 1098-E) or records of contributions to an IRA.

If you haven’t received all applicable forms by Feb. 15, contact the appropriate employer, bank, or other source.

Remember: The IRS should be receiving copies of these forms, as well, and will use them to verify the information you provide on your tax return. Discrepancies could lead to a tax audit, so it is important that you provide accurate information.

How Do I Know If I Need to File Taxes?

If you’re a student, ask your parents whether they’re listing you as a dependent or claiming your college costs, including tuition and books, on their return. If so, you may not need to submit forms, or you’ll need to ensure your forms don’t conflict. For instance, if your parents claim you as a dependent, you aren’t allowed to claim yourself. The 2016 limit for each exemption - personal and dependent - is $4,050 (subject to a phase-out at certain income levels).

There are also minimum income requirements for filing taxes. This means that if your gross income was under the minimum threshold, which was $10,350 for a single person under the age of 65 in 2016, you don’t have to file a tax return.

Who Can Help Me File My Tax Return?

You have plenty of options for assistance with filing your taxes. If you’re able to use the 1040-EZ, you can use the IRS’ Free File software. If you are using a different form, you can go it alone, hire a professional tax preparer, or buy tax prep software.

Software programs, like TaxSlayer, outline the records you need and flag potential deductions, which reduces the opportunity for mistakes. They also allow you to e-file with direct deposit, meaning you may receive tax refunds quicker.

If you hire an accountant or tax preparer, determine upfront the estimated fees you’ll pay to make sure it’s worth the money. You may also be able to find a professional to review your finished work for a nominal fee. Keep in mind that tax preparers are usually booked solid in the days leading up to the tax day deadline.

If you prepare early and leave yourself plenty of time, filing your taxes for the first time can be a painless process.

Don’t let the tax deadline creep up on you. Use this tax-time checklist to keep your paperwork in order and avoid a last-minute time crunch.

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This information is general in nature and is provided for educational purposes only. Regions makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability, or validity of any information presented. Information provided should not be relied on or interpreted as accounting, financial planning, investment, legal, or tax advice. Regions encourages you to consult a professional for advice applicable to your specific situation.

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