The holiday bills are landing. Winter roads could send you spinning on a patch of black ice. So why not add a tad more stress in January and start thinking about doing your taxes, too?
Like it or not, income tax season is upon us. This year, the Internal Revenue Service started accepting federal income tax returns for individuals electronically Friday. That’s about 10 days later than normal, but only one day later than last year, which also saw a delayed start for filing.
The IRS began accepting business tax returns Jan. 13.
A delayed start means families won’t receive refunds as quickly, either. Some tax experts say consumers who budget with the idea of getting a refund in early February should realize that the money won’t show up until maybe mid-February.
The IRS said 9 out of 10 taxpayers will receive their refund in 21 days or less if they file a return electronically.
The Free File program offered via the IRS website is worth a close look. Individuals do not have to pay a dime for tax software, if they go through www.irs.gov and pick a company participating in the program.
“Doing your taxes may not be the most exciting thing to look forward to, but at least you can do it for free,” said Luis D. Garcia, a spokesman for the IRS in Detroit.
This year, 14 tax preparation services are participating in Free File. Taxpayers need to go directly through IRS.gov. Then click on “Free File” and use a “Help Me” tool to filter out which company would be best for a given tax filer to use.
Tax software programs listed in Free File can set limits as to who can use their services for free. Some might work only with certain income limits, for example.
The Free File program overall is open only to taxpayers with an adjusted gross income of $58,000 or less.
Even with that income limit, the IRS said, Free File could be used by up to 70 percent of all individual taxpayers.
Right now, not even half of the people who could use Free File take advantage of that freebie.
Nationwide, the number who used the Free File program was 2.97 million.
Taxpayers can save $30 or $40 easily if they can use brand name software online for free, instead of buying that software. They would save even more money if they use Free File instead of paying hundreds of dollars to have returns prepared by someone else.
The step-by-step process available online via Free File is easier than doing taxes by pencil and paper.
It’s fast to e-file, and many people can do it, especially if they do not have a complicated return.
Despite the later start to tax-filing season, the April 15 deadline is not affected, so now’s the time to start gathering those all-important documents.
“In most cases, the IRS doesn’t require you to keep records in any special manner, but you should keep any and all documents that may have an impact on your federal tax return,” said Clay Sanford, IRS spokesman in Dallas. “It’s important to get into this routine, because you may forget expenses that qualify as deductions unless you record them when they occur.”
Sanford recommends you “retain a record for every line item on a tax return. For businesses, records for purchases, payroll, sales and other transactions come into play, but even if you just file an individual return as basic as a 1040EZ, keep the forms that you used to fill it out.”
Here are the documents you need to prepare for the filing season:
• W-2 wage and tax statement. This shows how much you earned in 2013, how much of your income was taxable and how much tax was withheld.
You should have received your W-2 from your employer by the end of January.
If you’re an independent contractor, you will get a Form 1099-MISC showing your earnings from the company you worked for.
• Documents that show other income. These include Form 1099-INT for interest income, Form 1099-DIV for dividends you received. If you used a stockbroker for transactions, you will receive Form 1099-B.
• Records for charitable contributions. To ensure the deductibility of your contribution, you must have the right documents to back up how much you’ve donated.
For donations of less than $250, you need a canceled check or credit card receipt showing the amount of your contribution, or written communication from the charity showing its name and the amount and date of the contribution or other records containing this information.
For donations of $250 or more, you also must obtain written proof for every separate transaction. The written acknowledgment must include the amount of the contribution or a description of donated property, along with a description and good-faith estimate of the value of any goods or services you received.
• Records supporting other itemized deductions. These include invoices, receipts, canceled checks or other proof of payment for property taxes, mortgage interest, mileage traveled for work and medical expenses, among other things.
“One overriding thing is to know that any deduction you take must be supported and all income must be reported,” said Ken Sibley, certified public accountant at CliftonLarsonAllen in Dallas.