Most of the information that you need to complete the tax return should come from your W-2 or 1099. Chief among the figures is the total amount of money that you earned from wages, salaries or tips over the year. For those using a 1040EZ, simply add this number to any income from unemployment benefits and earned interest and you get your adjusted gross income.
To calculate your taxable income, the total is further adjusted based on whether you can be claimed as a dependent by another person and whether you are filing an individual or joint return. The amount that remains is used to determine your tax bracket, the percentage of your income that will be taxed. In 2014, tax brackets range from 10 percent for people who make up to $9,705 in the year to more than 40 percent for those who make more than $406,750. Keep in mind that the brackets shift as you make more money. A person who makes $40,000, for example, will have the first $9,705 taxed at 10 percent, amounts $9,076 to $36,900 taxed at 15 percent, and the rest taxed at 25 percent [source: Erb].
The taxable income figure is also used to calculate how much you owe the government at the end of the year or, alternatively, how much Uncle Sam owes you. Use your W-2 to find out how much money has already been withheld from your paychecks. Compare that to the amount that you should have been taxed -- using a table attached to the 1040 -- to determine whether you'll be getting a refund or need to kick up some more dough to the tax man [source: IRS].
Once the form is completed, you have a couple of options for getting the paperwork to the authorities. That includes not only the return form, but also copies of any W-2s or 1099s. To file electronically, go back to the IRS homepage and click on the "IRSe-file" logo under the "Filing & Payment" section. If you made less than $58,000 over the year, you can use free tax software to electronically file. If you made more than that amount, you can still file electronically -- by completing fillable forms online -- but without the assistance provided in the software.
Either online option also gives filers the choice of paying any taxes that they owe electronically from a bank account or by credit or debit card. Just keep in mind that using a card means paying an additional fee [source: IRS].
Still like to do it the old-fashioned way? You can also mail your tax forms to the IRS, along with a check for any money owed, made out to the "United States Treasury." The address and mailing info is listed on the tax return forms.
Author's Note: How to File Taxes for the First Time
Like any child of the 80s, I learned most of life's important lessons from Cliff Huxtable. That includes the short course on money and responsibility that the "Cosby Show" dad gave Theo during one episode in which his son says he doesn't want to go to college – he just wants to live "like regular people." Old Cliff uses Monopoly money to show young Theo where all of the cash he earns is going to go. You know, to things like food, rent and TAXES. Just like Cliff says, "the government comes for the regular people first."
- Bell, Kay. "Which tax return form should you use?" Bankrate.com. (Nov. 11, 2014) http://www.bankrate.com/finance/money-guides/which-tax-return-form-should-you-use--1.aspx
- Erb, Kelly P. "Do You Need to File a Tax Return in 2014?" Forbes. Jan. 26, 2014 (Nov. 10, 2014) http://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2014/01/26/do-you-need-to-file-a-tax-return-in-2014/
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