Tax Returns Pages

Tax Return Step by Step Guide

Prepare To Prepare Your Taxes

This is a high level step by step guide on how to prepare to prepare and e-file your next federal and/or state income tax return(s). Self-preparing and e-filing your taxes is as simple as following this guide. Use this high level and easy to understand overview of the latest tax changes you can expect.

Follow our tax return preparation checklist to plan and prepare for your online tax returns on It will not only assist you in gathering all the important tax records and documents you need to prepare and e-file your federal and state tax returns, but also assure a more accurate and faster process.

How to be smart with your taxes

Tax Tip: If you expect to owe taxes on your next tax return, e-file your return or tax extension on time as the late filing penalties are higher than the late payment penalties. Most taxpayers are not aware of this, so file and pay as little or as much as you can on taxes. File on time and don't let your refund expire. Use this free IRS tax return and refund calculator tool to find out what your next return may look like

Recommendation: A well planned out and prepared income tax return might have to take less steps on the IRS Tax Return roadmap.

How to Prepare for Tax Filing

The tax season lasts from January through the October tax deadline. In December leading up to the end of the year, go over any financial records that may apply to your situation. It is important to gather any documents you may need as they become available as well as last year's adjusted gross income or AGI. Retrieve receipts, statements, and other records you may need to write off or include on your income tax return. Once you have all your tax records, sign up and start preparing your return; the eFile Tax App will generate the federal and state forms based on information entered on your account.

In this table, find various tax buzzwords you may come across accompanied by information for that topic and action(s) to take.

Tax Buzz
Tax Return Guide
Action Item(s)
Organize and collect necessary records, forms, and receipts throughout the tax year based on your income and expenses.
Have a copy of last year's tax return handy; collect W-2, 1099, 1098-T, etc. Most tax forms are required to be issued by January 31.
Beginning in early January, you can obtain your personal IP-PIN or Identity Protection - Personal Identification Number - for an extra layer of security. This is not required. An IP-PIN will protect your SSN from being compromised and only you can e-file a tax return with your SSN because you will be asked to enter the IP-PIN during e-filing for validation purposes.
Get your IP-PIN directly from the IRS . If the IRS assigns an IP PIN to you or you sign up for on one your own, you will need this to e-file and can retrieve it using the link. The IRS assigns a new IP PIN each year and they generally mail a notice with the number; otherwise, get it online using hte link.
IT = Income Taxes. Most income and deduction forms will arrive in your mailbox and/or electronically by January 31. Start to prepare early but don't e-file unless you are 100% certain you got all your forms to avoid tax amendments.
See the preparation checklist before you e-file and view tax return forms you can e-file or not.
Consider retirement plan options and contributions, as it's never too early for that. Contributions to a qualifying retirement account may be tax deductible and withdrawals may be tax free, depending on the type of account. Keep track of your income if you collect any form of retirement income.
Begin with the retirement tax planning page and navigate to other retirement pages, such as social security and taxes or pension plan contributions. Find an overview of retirement contribution options; you can generally make these contributions through the following April Tax Day deadline. Make sure you have taken your qualified minimum distributions if you are required to do so by the end of the year.
Certain types of income require you to make estimated tax payments throughout the year. If you are self-employed, you may be responsible for these estimated payments.
Pay your estimated taxes to the IRS directly by the four quarterly deadlines. After the tax year, the last quarterly payment is due by January 15 following the year.
Know the expenses you can and cannot deduct on your tax return. Deductions and credits can lower your taxable income or tax liability. See tax breaks and ways to save on taxes.
See tax credits and tax deductions you may be able to claim. There are specific ones for different situations, such as student deductions and credits or credits for raising a child.
Find out if you actually have to file an income tax return. There are many reasons you may want to, even if you don't have a substantial amount of taxable income.
Use the free FILEuctor tool to quickly determine if you should file a tax return.
Should you file yourself or as someone's dependent on your tax return? Find out who to claim as your dependent and how to claim them.
Are you a single parent or student with a child or dependent? You may be able to file under a specific filing status with the IRS and receive different benefits.
See if you qualify for the head of household filing status with this free tool. This status has many benefits that can save you money come tax time.
Estimate your tax refund or taxes owed before you start filing or e-filing your tax return. Find other free calculators courtesy of and better understand your tax situation.
Use our free tax refund calculator to enter information and get real results as you work. Know your estimated refund or taxes owed before you file your taxes.
Even if you can't pay for the taxes you might owe, you should either file a tax return or an extension by Tax Day. The penalty for not filing is higher than the penalty for not paying.
See Federal Tax Day Deadlines and State Tax Day Deadlines.
To e-file an extension or not? Take note of these dates and file an extension if you need to.
Review and IRS tax payments options and learn how to pay your taxes. You can make payments online directly to the IRS and most states.
Assess your tax withholdings throughout the year and factor in all your income (W-2, 1099, etc.). Keep more of your money during the year if you received a large refund.
Don't wait until the end of the tax year to assess your taxes. Plan in July and before the end of the year, December 31.
A well planned out and prepared Tax Return might take less steps of the IRS Tax Return roadmap.
Here is an outline of all the potential steps an IRS Tax Return might have to go through: IRS Tax Return Roadmap

State Income Taxes

State returns vary state by state and some can get more complicated than others. On, your state return is automatically generated with your return based on your federal information so you generally do not have to fill in any state forms. Review this guide if you need to (or want to) file a state tax return:

Tax Buzz
What To Do Guide
Action Item(s)
All the points listed above apply more or less to your state income taxes as well. For specific information, review the state page.
Pick the state that applies to you and learn about what the tax implications are for your state.
Calculate and estimate your state income tax return for free.
State returns can only be e-filed with a federal return as per law. Prepare and e-file your federal and state returns together so you can file them electronically and not have to mail anything.
You can prepare and e-file your state tax return on when filing your federal taxes. The eFile Tax App will generate your state return based on your federal forms and, generally, no extra work is needed. Start for free and add your state return once you have finished entering all your tax data.

After Your Tax Return Has Been Submitted, Mailed, or e-Filed

Once you have finished your forms and filed your return, the IRS and state will process it. If you e-file via, monitor your account and email for important information. Find out what to do after you submit your tax return.

Tax Buzz
What To Do Guide
Action Item(s)
After you have e-filed your return, monitor your emails, check your account, and/or check your tax refund status.
Make sure your tax refund will be directly deposited into your account or mailed to the address on your tax return.
Download your completed tax return from your account under My Account and keep it for your records. If you did not file your return on (or even if you did), you may obtain a free transcript of your return from the IRS.
Sign into and download IT.
Get an IRS tax return transcript regardless of where you prepared and filed.
Need to make a change on an e-filed or filed return? You will need to complete and file an amended tax return.
How to prepare and file a tax amendment on Form 1040-X. This can only be done for an accepted return - see instructions for eFile users.
Know what to do in case you get audited.

Get Ready to File Your Tax Return with

If all of this is overwhelming for you, simply create a free account on and start the tax interview process by answering simple questions. We make it easy for you so you don't have to worry about too many of the sometimes complicated tax law details. You can monitor your preliminary IRS and state tax return as you go through the process. Before you actually eFile your tax return, make sure you check for errors and overall results or contact one of our Taxperts® if you have questions.