It's so good, in fact, that I just talked with a writer at The Street about this important matter. Here's some of our discussion.
Old 1040, new filing guide: Start with last year's tax return. It's a good guide/reminder of what's likely to be on your 2014 return if your life hasn't changed that much.
And if you have experienced some key life changes -- got married, had a kid, bought a house -- then you'll realize when you look at your old return, which didn't take these tax-affecting events into consideration, that they will be part of your 2014 tax year filing.
I personally use the prior year's tax return as my reminder as to what investment statements I need.
They all come to me via email now, and since my inbox is out of control, they notices tend to slip off the page before I see them. With my Schedule B from the last tax year, I know which mutual fund/stock websites to log into to get my data.
In instances where the hubby and I sold some assets, seeing that holding on the prior year's return is a good note to self that I need get the basis info to figure capital gains.
Your prior year return also will show whether you got other income (line 21 of Form 1040 for that $500 lottery scratch-off winning or the $1,200 in canceled credit card debt) or had self-employment earnings (line 12 for business income reported on Schedule C).
If you got similar amounts in 2014, be on the lookout for the earning statements, typically some type of 1099 form.
Look out for, check those forms: Third-party reporting documents -- W-2s, 1099s, etc. -- must be, by law, sent by issuers by the end of January. Jan. 31 this year, however, is on a Saturday, so the senders get until the next business day, Feb. 2.
Some really on-the-ball companies already had distributed the annual tax statements.
And most tax documents nowadays are sent via electronically. Be sure to check your email box, which I hope is in better shape than mine! You don't want a critical tax form languishing in your spam box.
When you do get your tax documents, whether by snail or email, double check them immediately to make sure they are correct.
If they're not, contact the issuer to resolve any differences. Doing so quickly means you won't have to scramble to get the correct filing data as April 15 nears.
Then put these statements in a safe place so you can get to them when you are ready to file.
New Obamacare form for some: Some folks also need to be on the lookout for a new form this year related to their purchase of health insurance via an Affordable Care Act marketplace, either state or federal.
The 1095-A info will show you (and the Internal Revenue Service) that the amount of credit you got was correct. Or if it wasn't, how much more you should get at filing time. Or, unfortunately, how much of the credit you must pay back because your got too much in advance.
You got that reference to the IRS knowing what's on 1095-A, right? It knows what's on all the information forms you get since the tax agency is copied on the documents.
So again, make sure they are right. If your numbers on your tax return differ from what the statements say, you'll be hearing from the tax collector.
Records for credit, deduction claims: Now's also the time to gather the other records you need to claim tax deductions and credits.
If you claim the child care tax credit, make sure you have the Social Security or other tax ID number for the person or facility that takes care of your kids while you work.
You'll need the records of your tax deductible donations to charity. You generally don't have to send the receipts to the the IRS, but you need the correct amounts to claim on Schedule A. And you'll need the documentation in case the IRS has follow-up questions.
Are you claiming home-related tax breaks? You'll need your mortgage holder's year-end statement (Form 1098 or a substitute document) that has how much mortgage interest and property tax you paid.
The tax extenders that finally were reauthorized for 2014 also allow some homeowners to deduct private mortgage insurance payments as interest.
Basically, the key to getting organized for tax-filing season is to know what to expect and make sure you get it.
That way you can be done with your 2015 filing tasks as soon -- and as completely -- as you're ready.
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