Your 2020 taxes are kind of like that sweatshirt you still have from your toxic ex: It’s one last reminder of a time in your life you’d rather forget and it’s going to require a return before you can totally move on.
Looking to get your taxes over with (without missing out on your biggest refund possible)? We asked three tax pros for their top tips to make the process a little easier.
Taxes aren’t the time to procrastinate. Rushing through the process could lead to correcting mistakes later on.
“It can be a good idea to start early and complete the return in stages,” says Brandon Berquist, CPA. “[This] can be less stressful as well as give you the opportunity to review the return multiple times with a fresh brain.”
Logan Murray, CFP, suggests keeping all of your tax-related docs together (like in a folder on Google Drive) to stay organized.
“Dump any tax document you receive in there as soon as you receive it to have everything in one place,” Murray says. “You can even take a picture with your phone and upload it right there if you get it in the mail.”
You don’t need to be good at math to do your own taxes. There are plenty of online filing options that walk you through the process with automated prompts.
Some online tools even let you upload a photo of your tax docs and their program will autofill the numbers for you. All you need to do is double check that everything is filled correctly.
If you made $72,000 or less in 2020, you can use the IRS’ Free File tool to file your federal tax return for free. (You might even be able to file your state return for free, too).
Feeling overwhelmed? You may want to work with a professional. “A CPA can not only take the preparation off your shoulders” says Berquist. “[they can] potentially give you some planning insights for the future.”
Whether you have a complicated situation right now, a side hustle, or you need advice on money moves you’re planning to make, a tax pro could make a big difference.
According to the National Society of Accountants, the average cost of hiring a professional to prep and file a basic tax return is $176. It goes up to $273 if you choose to itemize, and to $457 if you also have personal business income.
That’s more expensive than the typical automated service, but you’ll get personalized recommendations that could help you save even more moolah.
Just need a little bit of help along the way? Some services offer a kind of hybrid option (for an extra fee.) TurboTax Live gives you access to their tax experts that can answer your questions in real time while you prepare your own taxes.
“Due to the CARES Act, all individuals can now deduct up to $300 in charitable contributions made in 2020,” explains Murray. “Charitable deductions are typically only available for those who itemize deductions, but this year are available to anybody.”
FYI: The CARES Act was created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the ways it provides economic relief is through temporary tax changes.
Did you qualify for the stimulus checks last year? Two Economic Impact Payments (aka stimulus checks) were actually designed as 2020 tax credits that were given ahead of time.
That means if you did get these payments, they won’t be taxed like your regular income. It also means that filing your 2020 tax return can help you collect any money that you qualified for but didn’t receive last year.
FYI: Unlike a tax deduction, a tax credit is an amount that gets subtracted from your total tax bill.
“If you received unemployment last year, that is taxable income that needs to be reported on your tax return.” says Lauren Anastasio, CFP at SoFi. “The extra $600 that you may have received through July 2020? Also taxable.”
You should already have a form (the 1099-G) with a record of your income for 2020. It will also list how much of that income was withheld by the government. Remember to include these totals on your 2020 tax return to avoid penalties later on.
Keep these tips from tax pros in mind when you’re filing your 2020 taxes:
- Start the process ASAP.
- Organize your docs.
- Take advantage of online software.
- Work with a tax pro.
- Record your nonprofit donations.
- Know how much you got from the stimulus checks.
- Understand your unemployment.