What you'll find here

Filing taxes can be a daunting task. Here, we'll offer tools and unpack some best practices to help you this tax season.

Taxes 101

Before you get started, here are a few points to consider:

When are taxes due?

Your tax filings are always due April 15, or the first business day thereafter if April 15 falls on a weekend or holiday. That said, even though April 15 is the hard and fast deadline for filing, you don’t have to wait until the day your taxes are due. If you have all of your paperwork in order, you can file your taxes well before the deadline.

In some cases, you can file your taxes after the deadline without paying a penalty, but only if you file for an extension first. If you’re given an extension, your new deadline will be October 15.

Extensions can be granted for a number of reasons, including:

  • Incomplete tax documentation: Let’s say you misplaced a W-2 and don’t have everything you need to file. Don’t freak out; the IRS will work with you to extend the deadline. It’s important to file on time, but it’s even more important to ensure your tax filings are accurate, so if you need extra time, just ask.
  • Unexpected life events: Life happens. People get sick, disasters occur, and sometimes those unexpected events force us to put things like taxes on the backburner. Luckily, you can get an extension due to unexpected life events if you file for one.
  • Strategic extensions: It’s not uncommon to file an extension to do things like recharacterize your Roth IRA to a traditional IRA before your taxes are due to avoid paying taxes on the balance. It’s also not uncommon to file a strategic extension if you owe money to the IRS and don’t have the ability to pay it yet.

Whatever you do, don’t miss the April 15 deadline without filing for an extension or you may be stuck paying some hefty penalties.

How much do you have to make to file taxes?

Whether you made enough money to file taxes depends on your age, income and what your filing status was last year. The IRS has strict filing guidelines for self-employment and other types of income.

Marital Status Age Minimum income on W-2 Minimum self-employment income
Single Under 65 $12,200 $400
Single 65 & older $13,850 $400
Head of Household Under 65 $18,350 $400
Head of Household 65 or older $20,000 $400
Married Filing Jointly Both under 65 $24,400 $400
Married Filing Jointly One 65 & older $25,700 $400
Married Filing Jointly Both 65 & older $27,000 $400
Married Filing Separately Any age $5 $400
Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Children Under 65 $24,400 $400
Qualifying Widow(er) with Dependent Children 65 or older $25,700 $400

You will also be expected to file taxes if meet any of the following requirements:

  • Received unemployment income
  • Earned $400 or more while self-employed
  • Owe taxes on your retirement plan or health savings account
  • Are required to repay a homebuyer credit or other type of recapture tax
  • Meet the alternative minimum tax
  • Owe household employment taxes
  • Owe on unreported tip income
  • Got an advance on a premium tax credit
  • Got money from an MSA or HSA

Determining whether you need to file taxes is complicated, so it’s always best to consult a tax professional or read through the IRS information thoroughly before deciding against filing taxes. Misinterpreting the filing guidelines isn’t an excuse for not filing or filing incorrectly, and it can cost you a lot of time, hassle and money if it happens.

What happens if you file taxes late?

If you file your taxes late without filing for an extension first, it will cost you. The IRS can — and will — assess penalties for failure to file, even if you’re filing just one day late. You will also be fined for not paying all the taxes you owe by the tax filing deadline.

The longer your taxes go unfiled, the more the penalties increase

According to the IRS, the penalties are as follows:

  • If you file late: you’ll be charged 5% of the unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month that a tax return is late. That penalty starts accruing the day after the tax filing due date and will not exceed 25% of your unpaid taxes.
  • If you pay late: If you do not pay your taxes by the tax deadline, you will face a failure-to-pay penalty of 0.5% of 1% of your unpaid taxes. That penalty applies for each month or part of a month after the due date and starts accruing the day after the tax-filing due date.
  • Failure to pay and file: If both the 5% failure-to-file penalty and the 0.5% failure-to-pay penalties apply in any month, the maximum penalty that you’ll pay for both is 5%.
  • Filing more than 60 days late: A minimum penalty of $135 or 100% of the unpaid tax will be assessed (whichever is smaller) if you file your return more than 60 days after the due date or extended due date.

You should note, though, that according to the IRS, you will not have to pay a late filing or late payment penalty if you can show reasonable cause for not filing or paying on time, but don’t risk it. If you know you’re going to be late, file an extension.

How to file taxes

There are a number of ways to file taxes. You can:

  1. Hire a professional: You can use a tax professional like a CPA or a tax preparer to help you file. You’ll have to pay for their services, but it’s the tax preparer’s job to help you get the most out of your filing. They’ll prepare the filing for you with the help of your documentation and will work with you along the way to make sure you claim the right deductions and income.
  2. Use tax software: There are many different tax programs or websites available to help you file your taxes, including TurboTax and H&R Block, two of the larger tax prep options. These services walk you through a series of questions about things like income, filing status and deductions, and then file your taxes electronically once you’ve signed off.
  3. File on your own: Believe it or not, you can file your taxes without the help of a software program, a tax professional or the internet. You’ll have to fill out a form called a 1040 and will need to closely follow the instructions given to you by the IRS. Once you’re done, you’ll need to mail the form with any payments you owe to the IRS through snail mail. If you plan to take this route, make sure your filing is postmarked by April 15 or it will be considered late by the IRS.

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