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Money | Doing Your Taxes
Tax Prep Advice From The IRS

TIPS AND RESOURCES FOR E-FILING, HIRING A TAX PREPARER, AND CHECKING YOUR TAX REFUND STATUS

Get your financial records in order and fire up your computer: It’s tax season. This year, the IRS expects to receive more than 167 million individual income tax returns. While most people don’t look forward to filing their taxes, most taxpayers are looking forward to receiving their refunds. Last year's average tax refund was more than $3,000.

The IRS worked for months to prepare for the 2023 tax season and began accepting 2023 tax returns on January 29. The later start date in January gave the IRS time to perform annual updates and readiness tasks that are critical to ensuring IRS systems run smoothly. This is the date IRS systems officially begin accepting tax returns. Many software providers and tax professionals are already accepting tax returns; they will transmit those returns to the IRS when the agency begins accepting tax returns on  January 29.
  
The IRS strongly encourages people to file their tax returns electronically to minimize errors and for faster refunds—as well having all the information they need to file an accurate return to avoid delays. The IRS's Free File program allows taxpayers who made $79,000 or less in 2023 to file their taxes electronically for free using software provided by commercial tax filing companies. More information on Free File is available on the IRS.gov website.
  
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Although the IRS will not officially begin accepting and processing tax returns until January 29, people do not need to wait until then to work on their taxes if they’re using software companies or tax professionals. For example, most software companies accept electronic submissions and then hold them until the IRS is ready to begin processing them. IRS Free File became available on IRS.gov on January 12, in advance of the filing season opening.
   
AAA sat down with John Fuld at the IRS to find out what you need to know and do before you file your 2023 income taxes, including deadlines, when to use a tax professional, how to choose one, and common errors.

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AAA: When is the deadline to file your tax year 2023 personal federal income taxes?

John Fuld: The filing deadline to submit 2023 tax returns or an extension to file and pay tax owed is Monday, April 15, 2024. Taxpayers living in Maine or Massachusetts have until April 17, 2024, due to the Patriot’s Day and Emancipation Day holidays. If a taxpayer resides in a federally declared disaster area, they also may have additional time to file.

AAA: What is the fastest way to file your taxes?

Fuld: Fast is good for sure, but fast and accurate is very important.

IRS Free File marks its 22nd filing season this year and is one of many free options available to taxpayers for filing their taxes either online or in person. IRS Free File is offered via a public-private partnership between the IRS and the Free File Inc., formerly the Free File Alliance. Through this partnership, leading tax software providers make their online products available in both English and Spanish for free.

The majority of taxpayers qualify to use the IRS Free File program, which is a partnership with the private software industry to provide free tax preparation software to taxpayers whose adjusted gross income was $79,000 or less in 2023.
   
Filing your tax return is also free, quick, and easy if you do it yourself. You can usually complete a simple IRS return in 30 minutes or less. Gathering all the documents you need—Form W-2s, 1099s, statements on interest and investment income, etc.—may sometimes take longer than actually entering the information into the software and e-filing the return. If you have all your documents ready, the process can be done quickly. Every year, a large percentage of people who e-file choose to file from a home computer. During 2023, slightly less than half, about 43.35%, of all the e-file returns the IRS received were prepared on a home computer.
   
Couple doing their taxes together
  

AAA: Tax documents normally start arriving in people’s mailboxes in late January. What documents should filers locate before preparing their taxes?

   
Fuld:
For most people, a Form W-2, Wage Tax Statement, from your employer is the key to getting started. If you had side jobs or other income, you may also receive a Form 1099 from whomever paid you during 2023. Banks also send 1099s showing interest, and brokers send 1099s showing dividends. Don’t forget those bank and investment income statements—you’ll need those to calculate your income.

 

AAA: What should people do if they haven’t received a Form W-2 from their employer?
   

Fuld: Employers have until January 31 to issue W-2s to their employees. After that time, you should check with your employer about when you can expect your W-2.  But you still have to file on time, even if you don’t get your W-2. You should be able to figure your income and withholding from your wage and earning statement from your employer’s HR department. You can use Form 4852, Substitute for Form W-2, for filing your return if you don’t receive a W-2 in a timely manner.
  

AAA: Before I ask about professional tax help, any special reminders for taxpayers doing their own taxes?
  

Fuld: A few reminders for this year’s filing is that the standard deduction amount increased for 2023. The amount for those filing Single or Married Filing Separately is $13,850, Married Filing Jointly or Qualifying Surviving Spouse is $27,700 and Head of Household is $20,800.
  

Additionally, the Child Tax Credit amount increased. The maximum Additional Child Tax Credit amount has increased to $1,600 for each qualifying child.

   
More of what’s new can be found at IRS.gov under “how can we help you” and “find forms and instructions,” which leads to various forms, instructions, and publications you can reference and download.
  

Going over taxes  

AAA: Many Americans opt to use a tax preparer to help them file a return. What advice do you have for choosing a tax preparer?
  

Fuld: Most tax return preparers provide honest, high-quality service. However, some may cause harm through fraud, identity theft, and other scams. Therefore, it’s important for taxpayers to understand who they’re choosing and what important questions to ask when hiring an individual or firm to prepare their tax return.
  

You should use the same care in selecting a tax professional as you do in selecting a doctor or attorney. You are going to be sharing confidential information with your tax person, so get referrals, and do some research.
  

The IRS reminds taxpayers that they are ultimately responsible for all the information on their income tax return, regardless of who prepares the return. That is why choosing a tax professional carefully is so important.
  

When choosing a tax professional, the IRS urges taxpayers to visit IRS.gov. The Choosing a Tax Professional page on IRS.gov has information about tax return preparer credentials and qualifications. The IRS Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications can help identify many preparers by type of credential or qualification.
  

Be wary of a tax preparer who wants to take a percentage of your refund as their fee. Also, make sure that the tax preparer signs the return and includes a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). If the preparer is unwilling to sign the return, include a PTIN, and e-file the return, look for another preparer.
  

Never sign a blank tax return when someone tells you they will just fill in the numbers later. In the end, it is your signature on the tax return, so you’re responsible for it. Be safe with your personal information and be sure to ask questions until you feel comfortable with the person who will be preparing your taxes. 

 

AAA: For those filing their taxes on their own, what are some common errors to avoid?

 

Fuld: The biggest mistake a taxpayer could make is not using IRS e-file because e-file is the fastest and most accurate way to do your taxes.
  

With e-filing, math mistakes and mistakes calculating certain credits or deductions are caught by your computer software, but it is still a good idea to double-check the math and to read instructions and qualifications carefully. Bottom line, if we catch an error on your return, it may slow down the processing, and you may have to wait longer to get any refund money. Errors may even lead to a smaller refund or additional tax.

  

AAA: Some early birds may have already filed their taxes. How can they check their tax refund status, and generally how long does it take for a refund to be processed?

 

Fuld: For taxpayers who e-file and choose direct deposit, IRS generally issues refunds in less than 21 days. Use the IRS website, IRS.gov/refunds for more information.

 

AAA: If I have a question about filing my taxes, what is the best way to reach the IRS?

 

Fuld: By far the best way to get your question answered is to start with the IRS.gov website. IRS.gov is the quickest and easiest option for help.
   

Taxpayers who want to be able to access information about their personal taxes from the IRS should go to IRS.gov and create an online account, which securely provides tax account information on IRS.gov and helps provide important filing information.
  

The IRS anticipates making significant improvements to phone service this year for taxpayers and tax professionals as more training for new phone assistants is completed in the weeks ahead. However, the IRS emphasizes it’s important to note that call volumes remain at historically high levels. The IRS urges people to visit IRS.gov for the information they need. From there, taxpayers can quickly access the variety of free resources available to help at any time, day or night.