Filing your taxes can be a somewhat complicated process, which is why it’s often a good idea to find a professional tax preparer to help you, rather than go it alone.
But even with an expert, the process can still take some time and require multiple conversations. “In an ideal world we’d all have one sit down and be done — but unless you have an extremely simple return, that’s really unlikely,” says Kenny Newton, a certified public accountant in Salem, Oregon. “So people shouldn’t feel they must have every document or every answer at that first meeting.”
Still, it’s understandable to want to be as prepared as possible so you can help move the process along smoothly. If you’re wondering what to bring to your tax appointment, these tips can help.
Gather your tax documents
At the start of each calendar year, you’ll begin to receive one or more tax forms, either digitally or in the mail. Here are the most common ones to look out for:
- W-2: If you’re an employee, you’ll receive this from your employer as proof of income.
- 1099: This type of income form is for independent contractors. Even if you’re not a contractor, you still might receive a 1099 form (there are several versions) as proof of any non-employment income you earned, which could include distributions from a health savings account (HSA) or interest income.
- 1098: This form is for reporting payments such as student loan or mortgage interest paid, which you can potentially get deductions or credits for.
While these are the main forms you can expect, you may receive additional documentation from the IRS related to taxes, expenses, or payments. Even if you’re not sure what it is, keep everything on hand to bring to your appointment.
Prior tax returns
If you’re working with a new tax preparer, Newton recommends bringing along your last two years’ worth of filings. “It gives us an understanding of what you’ve had going on historically, so we can compare against what you’re telling us today and see if we might be missing anything,” he says. “We might also find the need for corrections in prior year returns, including opportunities for additional refunds.”
Also, don’t forget to bring at least one form of government-issued ID, such as a Social Security card or a driver’s license — your preparer will need it to identify who you are when filing on your behalf.
Be ready to answer a few personal questions
Your tax preparer is likely going to have some questions about your life — don’t worry, most will only require yes or no answers — that pertain to any changes that may have occurred during the year. These might come in the form of a physical or digital questionnaire booklet that your preparer sends ahead of time, or you may be asked about them during your initial meeting.
While some questions will be general — your address, marital status or if your number of dependents has changed — most will likely be about financial matters. According to Newton, here are a few topics you may be asked about:
- Employment (including any side jobs)
- Investments, including interest and dividends, as well as capital gains and losses
- Real estate
- Business activities, including income and expenses
- Retirement account withdrawals
- Income received from Social Security, unemployment, gambling, or foreign entities
“We’re really trying to get the full financial picture of your life,” Newton says. “So if you’re thinking, ‘Why is he asking me if I’m divorced?’, we ask because that can get into questions about a change in filing status, dependents, etc. It’s not meant to be prying — we just need to know anything that can affect your filing.”
Think about your recent expenses
Your preparer will also ask questions to get you every tax break you’re entitled to. You don’t need to know every deduction and expense — that’s a big part of your preparer’s job. However, you’ll still want to come ready to discuss the following:
- Retirement account contributions
- Medical expenses (including insurance premiums)
- Mortgage payments
- Student loan payments
- Health savings account contributions
- Education funding
- Real estate tax payments
- Rental expenses and/or moving expenses
- Charitable donations (including cash and non-cash items)
- Child care
If you’re a contractor or small business owner, you may also be able to deduct some of your business-related expenses, including office supplies, business meals, work-related vehicle use, internet, phone costs, and more.
Your tax preparer will take this information to determine if it makes sense for you to itemize deductions or if you’re better off taking the standard deduction (the amount of money that, based on your tax filing status, the IRS allows you to deduct from your adjusted gross income without having to itemize). “Many of these limits and levels from the IRS change every year, just like things in your life change every year,” Newton says. “The more you’re able to share about what’s going on, the more we can help.”
Northwestern Mutual and its financial representatives do not give legal or tax advice. Taxpayers should seek advice regarding their particular circumstances from an independent legal, accounting or tax adviser.
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