Though the new US tax law is in effect, changes do not apply to 2017 tax returns, due April 17.
Taxpayers should submit returns to the IRS as soon as possible, but there are certain things to be aware of before filing.
You may be able to file for free, and the IRS recommends requesting your tax refund via direct deposit.
Taxes are about to get more interesting — or at least different.
President Donald Trump changed the US tax code for the first time in 30 years when he signed the Republican tax bill into law in December. The changes — including new tax brackets and modified tax deductions — went into effect on January 1. Employees should have already noticed a difference in their take-home pay.
But there's no need to scramble to understand the new law before Tax Day, which falls on April 17 this year. Your tax return will reflect your 2017 taxes, meaning the new law won't apply.
The IRS began accepting tax returns on Monday, January 29, and may taxpayers have already received their refund. If haven't filed your taxes yet, you've only got about a month left to do so. Here's what to expect during this year's tax season.
You should have received all your tax documents already
Before you file your taxes, you'll need to collect all your 2017 tax documents. If you're an employee, that means your W-2; if you're a freelancer, you may have multiple 1099 forms. In some cases, you may have other statements, such as income earned from an interest-bearing savings account or interest paid on a loan, or even taxable bitcoin gains.
Most tax-related documents must be filed by your employer or other institution by January 31, and the statements must be postmarked by that date as well. That means you should have received everything you need by early February. If not, follow up sooner rather than later in case your forms were lost in the mail.
In the meantime, you can estimate your tax refund for this year and next year using an online tax calculator.
The IRS recommends e-filing and choosing direct deposit
The IRS says the fastest way to get your tax refund is the method already used by most taxpayers: filing electronically and selecting direct deposit as the method for receiving your refund.
The IRS says direct deposit — which the government also uses for Social Security and Veterans Affairs payments — is "simple, safe, and secure."
Popular online tax services like TurboTax and H&R Block are easy to use, even for tax novices — but they aren't the only option for e-filing your taxes for free. If you plan to visit an accountant, make an appointment early to avoid the rush.
The last day to file your tax return is April 17
Tax Day typically falls on April 15, but this year procrastinators have a couple of extra days to finish their returns or request an extension.
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File as soon as possible to protect against tax fraud
Tax season presents plenty of opportunity for would-be identity thieves. A stolen Social Security number can be used to file a fraudulent tax return and refund request, but it's not the only tax scam out there. The IRS keeps track of the most common tax-related crimes, and the list is long and varied.
If you think you are a victim of identity theft or tax fraud, you should report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. The IRS also has detailed instructions on what to do if you are a victim of tax fraud.
The US Department of Justice says the IRS never discusses personal tax issues through unsolicited emails or texts, or over social media. Be wary if you are contacted by someone claiming to be from the IRS who says you owe money. When the IRS needs to get in touch with a taxpayer, standard practice is to send a letter via the US Postal Service. If you receive an unexpected and suspicious email from the IRS, forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can file your taxes for free if you know where to look
Many online tax services allow you to file your federal taxes for free— and sometimes state taxes as well — if your income was less than $66,000 in 2017. You can check your options using the IRS Free File lookup.
You can also download the IRS2Go app to find free tax-filing assistance, check your refund status, or make a payment.
You can still file for free if you make more than $66,000, but to do so, you'll need to use the Free File Fillable Forms. The IRS recommends using those forms only if you have experience preparing tax returns on your own.
You should receive your tax refund within 21 days of filing
Your tax refund should hit your bank account within three weeks of filing online, assuming you opted to receive it via direct deposit. Often, you'll get your money even faster.
You can check the status of your tax refund using the IRS's return-tracking service 24 hours after filing your tax return online or four weeks after mailing a return.
If you owe taxes, you don't have to pay when you file
Regardless of when you file your tax return, your 2017 tax bill isn't due until April 17. You can file early and schedule a payment for that day (or anytime before) if you aren't quite ready to pay.
If you can't afford to pay your tax bill, don't pull out your credit card or ignore the situation. The IRS offers reasonable payment plans at much lower interest rates than most banks. You may even be able to settle the bill for less than you owe, called an offer in compromise, or request a deferment until you can make a payment.
Keep copies of your old tax returns for at least 3 years
You don't have to save your tax returns forever. The IRS recommends holding onto copies for at least three years — the typical length of time the IRS would look back if you happen to get audited.
Most audits cover returns filed over the past two years, but the IRS can go back further if the situation calls for it. But audits shouldn't be cause for worry for most taxpayers. Fewer than 1% of tax returns are audited by the IRS.
When you dispose of old tax returns, make sure to properly shred the documents to protect against identity theft.
Review your tax withholding for 2018 under the new tax law
Your tax situation can change over time — for example, if you get married, buy a home, or have a child — so it's always a good idea to review your W-4 tax-withholding form at the start of a new year. With the new tax law this year, it's even more important.
The IRS says it has worked with payroll providers to make the change as seamless as possible for taxpayers, but it's still a good idea to reach out to your HR department and find out whether you can review your W-4 for 2018.
Read more before filing your tax return this year:
Protect yourself against tax scams:
See how you compare to other taxpayers:
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