Tax filing season 2017 really is here. Some folks have already filed their tax year 2016 federal return (soooo jealous!) even though the Internal Revenue Service won't start processing the submitted forms until Jan. 23.
Others of us are still waiting for the tax documents we need to fill out our forms.
If you're in the still-waiting group, now's a good time to consider just what you will need to accurately and easily complete your return.
To help, here's the 2017 version of the ol' blog's tax filing checklist.
It's a good idea at the start of each filing season to review your tax return filing needs, regardless of whether you will do your taxes yourself or hand the task over to a paid preparer.
This latest checklist starts with a look at some special tax circumstances. But don't worry. The more general issues that affect most of us are still there, too!
Get your tax ID number: Most of us use our Social Security numbers to file our tax returns. But some taxpayers must file using special Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs). If you're one of those folks and your ITIN expired on Jan. 1, you need to remedy this ASAP.
The affected ITINs largely are those that fall under a provision of the Protecting Americans form Tax Hikes Act. This law, enacted in late 2015, says that any ITIN not used on a tax return at least once in the past three years has expired. In addition, certain other ITINs -- those with the middle digits of either 78 or 79 (9NN-78-NNNN or 9NN-79-NNNN) also have expired.
Without a valid Internal Revenue Service issued ITIN you'll face refund delays and possibly be unable to claim some valuable tax benefits until the ITIN is renewed.
It can take up to 11 weeks to process a complete and accurate ITIN renewal application. Get the process started online by going to IRS.gov/ITIN. You also can contact a Certified Acceptance Agent or Acceptance Agent or make an appointment at an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC).
Affordable Care Act forms: We've dealt with the tax ramifications of the health care law, usually referred to as Obamacare, for a couple of filing seasons now.
But since the signature legislation from the Obama Administration is back at the top of the news, I'm making special note of the health care tax forms most of us will get and need to fill out our returns. They are:
- Form 1095-A is officially titled the Health Insurance Marketplace Statement. As the name indicates, it is sent by the exchanges through which individuals purchased their medical coverage.
- Form 1095-B is issued by health care insurance issuers or some smaller companies that provide coverage for employees, confirms that you had at your workplace acceptable minimal health insurance coverage. It also show how long you were covered and which family members also were on your policy.
- Form 1095-C is the same as the 1095-B, but it is issued by large employers.
The B and C 1095s generally will mean you just have to check a box on our 1040 (line 61), 1040A (line 38) or 1040EZ (line 11) to let the Internal Revenue Service know you had health care coverage.
The A version is key if you're eligible for the premium tax credit, also known as the federal subsidy, to help you pay for your ACA-mandated coverage that you got through the marketplace.
Now for all those other tax forms and statements that should be in your email or snail mail boxes by early February.
Income verification: It's officially known as the income tax, so the IRS wants to make sure that it knows about the money we get each year. To that end, we'll get a variety of documents detailing our earnings, both from wages and investments. In most cases, the IRS will get copies of these forms, too, which it will use to make sure we reported the correct amount.
You need to be on the look out for or dig out the following forms and/or statements. Remember, some of these might be sent, or notification that they're ready, via email.
- W-2 forms from employers who paid you a wage or salary. It also will show how much in taxes were withheld and whether you contributed to a workplace retirement plan, like a 401(k), which could affect the deductibility of any traditional IRA contributions you made.
- W-2G for gambling winnings if you had a really good time at your local casino.
- 1099 form come in many versions. The 1099-MISC is issued to report earnings of $600 or more that you received. 1099-INT, 1099-DIV and 1099-B forms detail investment income from, respectively, interest earned, dividends paid and brokerage transactions. 1099-G reports any unemployment benefits, state tax refunds or other government payments you got. Retirement account distributions are reported on a 1099-R. If you drove for Uber, used Airbnb or HomeAway to rent your home or got other payments through a third-party like PayPal, you'll likely get a 1099-K detailing those funds.
Other documents you need: In addition to the income forms, you need to provide some basic information. These questions/suggestions cover the filing situations most of us encounter.
- Social Security numbers for yourself, spouse and all dependents.
- Last year's federal return, including your prior year's state filing if you live in a state that collects tax. These docs are good guides to your current filing.
- Records of estimated tax payments you made for both your federal and state taxes.
- Do you get tips as part of your job? Have your records of those payments handy.
- Were you unemployed for a bit? The W-2G you (and the Internal Revenue Service) got is income that has to be included on your 1040.
- The same is true for gambling and prize winnings.
- If you're getting alimony, that's taxable income. If you're paying alimony, it's an adjustment to your income. Make sure you have the correct amounts in either case.
- If you got distributions from retirement accounts, depending on the type of plan it could be taxable. Double check retiree income statements for your IRAs and Social Security benefits.
- If you're still contributing to your retirement plan, is any of it deductible? Have your statement of these amounts to help you decide.
Schedule A specifics: If you itemize deductions, in order to complete Schedule A you'll need the records and receipts listed below.
- Homeowners have that 1098 handy for the deductible mortgage interest amount you paid. It also might show any property tax payments that you also can itemize, as well as points that can be written off here. Interest paid on a home equity loan or home equity line of credit also might be deductible. And for 2016 returns, some homeowners can still deduct as interest some of the private mortgage insurance payments they made last year, which should be shown on the 1098.
- Records of your medical and dental expenses. This includes drugs, doctor office visit payments, dental care costs, hospital bills, medical insurance premiums as long as they aren't paid at work via pretax dollars, long-term care insurance premiums and the mileage to and from physicians' offices. Every dollar counts now that for most filers the 2016 amounts must exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income before you can claim these costs on Schedule A.
- Other taxes you paid are deductible. This includes state and local income or sales taxes, real estate taxes and personal property taxes. When it comes to sales tax write-offs, major purchases such as a car can be added to the standard state and local tax amount for your state.
- Your philanthropy pays off here. Gather us those receipts of charitable contributions, be they cash or goods.
- If you had a casualty or theft losses last year or sustained damages from a major disaster, find the data on the costs associated with your recovery efforts. It could be deductible.
- Track down those work-related costs, both for unreimbursed employee expenses and money spent searching for a new job.
- Don't forget investment expenses. Some of them count as a miscellaneous deduction.
- Chances are you lost as well won when you placed your bets. Records of your gambling losses can be used to offset any taxable gambling proceeds.
A few more questions: In addition to collecting all your filing material, take the time to answer a few questions that could have tax implications. They include:
Do you have any unresolved state or federal tax issues? Offsets to pay overdue tax and other government bills could cut into or eliminate your refund.
Did you get married or divorced last year? It will affect your fling status.
Are you supporting anyone not living with you? Aging parents and other relatives might qualify as tax dependents.
Did you adopt a child or begin the adoption process last year? There are tax breaks for adding to your family this way.
Did you pay for child or another dependent's care so you could go to work? The child and dependent care credit could provide some tax savings.
Did you receive any assistance from your employer to pay for education expenses, child care costs or adoption expenses? If so, it will affect the amount of tax credits you can claim on your own.
Did you or any member of your household pay any college costs? You should get Form 1098-T, which will help students (or their parents) calculate education tax credit eligibility. A 1098-E shows potentially deductible student loan interest payment amounts.
Did you hire household help? Yep, talking about the nanny tax.
Did you make any major improvements to your home? They might not be immediately deductible, but could help lower any possible tax bill when you sell.
Did you sell, refinance or face any foreclosure transactions on your personal residence? For 2016, some forgiven mortgage debt remains tax-free.
Do you own a second residence or any other real estate? If so, did you rent it out last year? The length of time you were a landlord will determine what kind of tax breaks you can claim.
Did you have money in a foreign account? Don't try to hide it. The penalties are severe.
Did you make any large purchases, such as a vehicle? You can add the amount of sales tax to the IRS-provided general sales tax tables used by filers who claim this instead of state and local income taxes when itemizing.
Did you have any nonresidential debt that was canceled? If you got a reduce balance to pay off on your credit card, you'll probably get a 1099-C showing that you owe tax on that forgiven amount.
Did you serve in the military? If so, did you receive combat pay? Armed services taxpayers have some special tax matters to examine and in some cases some added tax considerations from Uncle Sam.
Account numbers key to refund receipt: If you want your refund directly deposited, make sure you have the correct account numbers and financial institution routing number.
The account number shouldn't be a problem, but sometimes banks use different routing numbers for tax refund deposits. It's not always the same as shown on your checks, so double check with your bank for the correct digit string.
Old AGI required to e-file: Since we started with numbers needed by some taxpayers in order to file, let's end on that note.
If you are preparing your taxes on your own and filing electronically, you must sign and validate your electronic tax return by entering your prior-year adjusted gross income (AGI) or your prior-year Self-Select PIN.
Your tax software automatically will enter the information if you're using the same brand you did last filing season. But if you've change software manufacturers or are using tax prep/filing software for the first time, you'll have to enter your previous AGI yourself.
Remember the suggestion earlier in this checklist that you pull out last year's 1040? If you didn't then, do it now and note your AGI. You'll find it on line 37 if you filed Form 1040, on line 21 if you used 1040-A or on line 4 if were able to use 1040-EZ.
If you don't have a copy of your 2016 tax return, you can get one from the IRS via its Get Transcript tool.
You can ask for your old tax transcript to be sent to you snail mail by requesting it online or calling the IRS toll-free at (800) 800-908-9946. You should get the paper docs in five to 10 days.
Now get to work on gathering your tax documents and other filing information so you can submit your return as soon as the IRS opens for 2017 tax season business on Jan. 23.