Whether you drop all of your tax paperwork off with your accountant or use home software to complete your taxes independently, you can minimize stress and confusion by gathering all the documents you need before you sit down to file.
Review the below list of docs for a faster and more organized tax-filing experience.
Here’s a quick checklist to get you started:
- 1040 — U.S. individual income tax return
- W-2 — Report of employee wage and salary information
- 1099 — Self-employed income report
- Schedule C — Reports income or (loss) from a business.
- Schedule SE — Determines tax due on net earnings from self-employment.
- Schedule E — Reports profit or loss from rental properties.
- 1098 — Tells you how much you paid in mortgage or student loan interest.
- Schedule D — Used to report capital gains or losses.
- Record of any taxes paid throughout the year (estimated quarterly taxes, etc.)
- Prior year tax return
- Any info about foreign bank accounts
- Any info about investment accounts and other assets
To file taxes you’ll need your social security number, the social security number of your spouse, and the social security numbers of any dependents you want to claim. If you don’t have these numbers already memorized, make sure they’re written down and easily accessible to you.
You also should have your updated bank account and routing numbers handy if you want your refund deposited directly into your bank account.
One reason many people prefer to work with the same tax software or accountant year after year is the convenience of having all their personal information stored in one place. When nothing changes from year to year, it can make filing your taxes faster and easier.
Whether you work for a large company, are self-employed, or run your own business, you have to have the right forms for your taxes. These can include a W-2 or self-employment paperwork to prove your income.
Here’s a quick guide to which IRS forms and/or personal documentation you’ll need for the most common income situations:
If you made more than the minimum income threshold specified by the IRS
The IRS lists minimum annual income amounts for different age brackets and marital statuses. If your income surpassed the minimum for your age bracket and marital status, you’ll need to execute at least a basic income tax return.
Virtually every individual in the United States needs to file a 1040, regardless of whether they’re employees, freelancers, or living off investments.
In addition to the 1040, the types of income you received will determine if you’ll need supplemental tax forms listed below.
If you had one or more employer
If you’re the employee of someone else — meaning employment and income taxes are deducted from your paychecks — your employer(s) should have already mailed a W2 before January 31.
If you earned any money from freelancing/self-employment
If you worked for yourself at all (full-time or on the side), you will need a few more forms to fill out.
You should receive one 1099 from every company or person you earned income from during the year if that income exceeded $600. (Even if it’s not greater than $600 and you don’t receive a 1099, you still have to report the income to the IRS.) Generally, this will be a 1099-MISC. These will be included as income earned on your Schedule C form.
Schedule C shows whether you and/or your business earned a profit or suffered a loss during the year. A profit or loss will be added or subtracted from your overall income on your 1040. If you earned a profit, you’ll need to pay employment taxes (like FICA, Medicare, Social Security, etc.), because an employer was not deducting those taxes from your paychecks. You were your own employer.
If you earned a profit, a Schedule SE will determine the amount of self-employment taxes you’ll need to pay. In general, you can deduct half of this amount from your total income (line 27 on your 1040 form).
If you earned interest or dividends from bank accounts or investments
Your bank or investment company will send you 1099-INT forms for any interest paid to you in cash. Interest income must be reported on your return.
If you earned income from rental property
Schedule E reports income or loss from rental properties, like Airbnb.
If you experienced a capital gain or loss
If you sold property — like stocks, real estate, artwork, etc. — you’ll need to submit a Schedule D form to declare a profit or loss from that sale.
Note that if the real estate you sold is your primary residence — i.e., you owned and resided in the property for two of the five years prior to its sale — you won’t have to pay tax on up to $250,000 ($500,000 if you’re married and filing jointly) in profit from the sale. If the profit exceeds those limits, you’ll need to pay capital gains tax.
Read more: Capital gains and losses — What will be taxed and what can I claim?
If you were unemployed
Unemployment compensation is included in your taxable income, so you must include it in your tax return. You’ll generally receive a 1099G form from the state that paid you unemployment compensation.
If you received social security income
Those who were paid social security benefits will be mailed an SSA-1099 from the Social Security Administration.
If you paid student loan or mortgage interest
Your student loan or mortgage lender(s) will mail you 1098 forms showing how much interest you paid on your loans in the tax year. This interest could potentially be tax deductible.
Adjustments to your income
It’s also important to have any documents on hand that can reduce how much of your income is taxed. This can either lower the amount you owe (when you need to pay taxes) or increase your tax refund.
If you’re a student you can use forms 1098-T and 1098-E to show how much you paid for tuition and how much of your student loan interest you paid, respectively. Teachers can provide canceled checks or copies of receipts that show they paid for classroom supplies, which can help to offset their income.
Other examples of items under this category that can help adjust your income include:
- Records of any contributions you made to your IRA
- Proof of improving your home with energy-efficient appliances or windows
- Records of contributing to a Medical Savings Account
Also keep track of expenses such as:
- Moving expenses you incurred
- Any alimony you paid to a spouse
- Information on self-employed health insurance
- Self-employed pension plans
These can be used to adjust your income and help you get a more substantial return.
Deductions and credits
It’s a great idea to itemize deductions if you want to reduce the amount of taxable income you have. This does take more time and effort than just using standard deductions, but if you’re prepared for the extra work, you can enjoy the benefits.
Here are some quick examples of common deductions and credits that you’ll need documentation for:
- Child care tax credit. If you have children and you pay for them to receive care while you’re working, you can take this expense off your taxes. Gather the care provider’s name, address, tax ID, and the amount you paid them for the year.
- Education expenses. Many education expenses can also be itemized if you have the right forms to document the expenditures, like receipts for tuition paid.
- Adoption. If you want to take advantage of the adoption tax credit, then you need to have the social security number of your child and records of all medical, legal, and transportation costs associated with the adoption.
- Mortgage costs. You can list mortgage interest paid, points you paid for your mortgage, and private mortgage insurance (PMI) payments.
- Rental property/home office. If you have rental property or you work from home, then you will want to consider itemizing expenses incurred from your rental property or home business.
- Catastrophic loss. The IRS allows you to itemize a casualty loss, which may be related to sudden natural disasters or theft. These are reported on Form 4684.
Other itemized expenses you can include here are dental and medical costs and charitable donations.
Taxes you’ve paid
It’s also essential to keep track of all taxes you have paid during the year, as you will need to list them on your taxes in April. Unlike some of the other categories of information you need to gather for your taxes, this list is relatively short and should be easy for you to keep track of.
Keep information on your real estate taxes, personal property taxes, and the state and local income taxes you’ve paid. You’ll even want to keep the vehicle license fees you have to pay.
If you’re self-employed, you’ll need to have information regarding the estimated tax payments you made throughout the year. This is important to have so you can prove not only that you paid your quarterly taxes, but how much you paid.
While you don’t need to prove you have health care coverage, having this information on hand is helpful so you can easily verify coverage if necessary. This can include your insurance cards, statements from your insurer, an explanation of benefits, and even a W-2 that shows your deductions for health insurance.
If you get Form 1095-A, then you need to wait to file your taxes until you have it in hand. This form is the Health Insurance Marketplace Statement. Remember that most employers need not provide you with information to prove that you have health care coverage, so you need to show this information on your own if it becomes necessary.
Marriage or divorce
If you got married or divorced, you need to have this information ready to report to the IRS. While not always required, I’d recommend having at least your marriage certificate handy.
Foreign bank accounts
If you have foreign bank accounts with combined balances/values of over $10,000, you’ll need to file an FBAR with FinCEN, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes and Enforcement Network. Note that this needs to be filed separately from your federal tax return with the IRS.
Before filing the FBAR, you should gather the following:
- Names and locations of the banks where your foreign accounts are held
- The account numbers
- The peak value/balance of your account during the applicable tax year, converted into USD via the exchange rate listed by the IRS.
Retroactive savings contributions
Finally, one last thing I recommend you do before you finalize and file your taxes is to get all your paperwork together and make any retroactive contributions you can for the last tax year. This is a great way to take advantage of your college savings or retirement account, and it’s smart to make sure you have all your tax information prepared beforehand.
If you didn’t max out either your retirement account or your college savings account, then now is the time to max them out, even though it is technically a new year. You can easily retroactively contribute to several accounts, including your HSA, IRA, Roth IRA, 401(k), Coverdell Education Savings Account, and 529 if you claim the contribution for the prior tax year.
You also need to make sure that your payment is received before tax day or you won’t be able to apply it to the preceding year’s taxes and must claim it on this year’s. You can read about how to do this here.
I hope this tax document checklist will help you ensure you have all of your paperwork and documents on hand and are ready to go when you file.
Filing all those tax forms is no walk in the park, but we all have to do it. This list will help get you started, but if your taxes are more complicated than any of the forms above allow, consider hiring a tax preparer.