How to File Taxes for the First Time

Selecting a Tax Return Form

Should you use 1040 or 1040EZ? Most first-timers will have a simple enough tax situation that they can use 1040EZ.
Should you use 1040 or 1040EZ? Most first-timers will have a simple enough tax situation that they can use 1040EZ.
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Even if you don't have to file a tax return, there may be a good reason to do it. Mainly cold hard cash. If you qualify for a refundable tax credit, such as the earned income or child tax credit, you may be able to get some money from the U.S. government at the end of the year [source: Erb].

For those that don't have a choice in the matter, you must file a return with the Internal Revenue Service by April 15 or face a penalty. Fortunately, the days of standing in long lines at the post office to ensure that your paperwork is postmarked by the 15th should be over for most folks. The IRS allows filers to submit their tax returns and make payments electronically [source:].

There are a number of tax forms from which to choose, but first-time filers are likely best off with the 1040EZ. As its names suggests, this form is designed to simplify the process for filers whose tax situation is fairly straightforward: They are single and don't own a home, earn income from one or two sources, had some taxes withheld and have no dependents.

Form 1040A should be used by filers who own a home, have dependents and are eligible for certain credits or deductions; form 1040 should be reserved for those with complicated tax situations or who want to itemize deductions [source: Bell].

To locate the form that's best for you, head over to the IRS website and click on the link for "Forms and Pubs." You can also order a particular form or forms via this IRS link, or call the IRS at 1-800-829-3676.

If you aren't sure which form to use, you may be able to get some free help by visiting a local library. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program provides tax assistance to people who make less than $53,000 per year, are elderly or have disabilities or limited English proficiency. Volunteers, certified by the IRS, can not only help you decided which tax return form to use, but also help you complete and file the paperwork. VITA sites are usually located at libraries and other community centers like schools and malls. Visit this IRS website or call 800-906-9887 to find the one nearest to you.

Those who are above this income level, can also seek help by purchasing commercial tax software or hiring a professional to do your taxes for you.