Everything You Need To Know About Filing Your Own Taxes

by Robert Farrington

With tax season just getting started, it’s time to get organized and ready to file.

Whether this is the first time filing your taxes or your 20th, it’s always nice to have a list of resources to help get you through the process.

We all know that doing your taxes can be confusing, but it's even harder when IRS "help" documents are anything but helpful, scammers are trying to take advantage of filers and nobody can give you a straight answer on the question, "When can I expect my tax refund?"

Here’s what you should know about filing your taxes:

Getting Ready To File

Before you get ready to file your taxes, it’s important to have everything you need in front of you.

Do not file before you’ve received all of your tax documents (as tempting as that may be).

If you file early, and then you get another document, it could cause you to have to amend your tax return.

You could also open yourself up to audits and penalties.

Here are some of the important tax document mailing deadlines:

- Employers have to send out W-2s by February 1. If you don’t receive your W-2 by February 14, you should contact your employer or you can contact the IRS for assistance at 800-829-1040.

- Form 1099-MISC must be mailed out by February 1. Again, if you do not receive your 1099 by February 14, contact the sender or the IRS for assistance.

- Most other tax documents should be mailed by February 1 as well. (See this list for exceptions)

Note: Some banks and investment companies ask for 30-day extensions from the IRS, so your forms could be delayed even longer.

After you have received and gathered up all of your tax documents, you’ll be ready to file.

Your Tax Filing Options

If you have a straightforward tax situation, filing taxes yourself is extremely simple with the right tax software.

These income tax software programs will walk you through filing your taxes step by step, and many of them are completely free.

Check out "Are Free Tax Filing Companies Really Free?" to figure out which service will best meet your needs.

Remember that many tax software companies offer free federal returns, which means you'll pay extra for state returns.

This doesn't matter if you live in a state with no income tax.

When you are filling out your tax return, be sure to double-check the information you inputted in the tax software and run all alerts to minimize mistakes and maximize your refund.

If your taxes are a little more complicated than what you feel comfortable doing yourself, make an appointment with a tax professional to get help.

Just make sure you do a little homework on whom you choose to do your taxes.

Check how long that person has been doing taxes, and fully understand how he or she is compensated.

For more information, check out the common lies tax preparers will tell you.

When You Should Expect Your Tax Refund

The IRS officially started processing tax returns on January 19, 2016.

If you e-filed your return, you can receive your refund in as little as eight days.

As of last year, nine out of 10 tax payers received their refunds within 21 days.

If you know what date your income tax return was accepted by the IRS, you can view this chart to see when to expect your tax refund (shows dates for both paper checks and direct deposit).

This chart is an estimate based on previous years.

If you’ve filed your taxes weeks ago and are still wondering where your refund is, be sure to head over to the IRS Where’s My Refund? tool.

If you receive one of the many error codes, you can look up the meaning of those here.

If you haven't received your tax return after 21 days, and you don't have an updated status on the Where's My Refund tool, contact the IRS by calling 800-829-1040.

Making the Most Out of Your Tax Refund

Once you’ve got your taxes filed and your refund is on the way, it’s time to plan what to do with the extra money.

Some of the best ways to make the most out of your tax refund is to pay down debt, save for the future with an emergency fund or look at contributing to an IRA for 2016.

Just don't waste it, or you'll be waiting another year for your next refund.