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Tax Return Step by Step Guide

Prepare To Prepare Your Taxes

This is a high level step by step guide on how to prepare to prepare and e-File your 2021 Federal IRS and/or State Income Tax Return(s). Self-preparing and e-filing your taxes is as simple as following this guide.

Use this tax return preparation checklist to plan and prepare for your online tax returns on eFile.com.

It will not only assist you in gathering all the important tax records and documents you need to prepare and e-file your federal and state tax returns, but also assure a more accurate and faster process to prepare and eFile your taxes.

Tax Tip: If you expect to owe taxes on your 2021 Tax Return, do eFile your return or tax extension on time as the late filing penalties are higher than the late payment penalties. Most taxpayers are not aware of this, so file and pay as little or as much as you can on taxes. You can claim your 2021 Tax Refund until April 18, 2025 by filing a return. After that day, your refund will expire.

How to Prepare for 2021 Taxes

The 2021 Tax Season is underway. In December 2021 and January of 2022, go over any financial records that may apply to your situation. It is important to gather any documents you may need as they become available as well as your 2020 adjusted gross income or AGI. Retrieve receipts, statements, and other records you may need to write off or include on your income tax return. Once you have all your tax records, sign up and start preparing your return; the eFile Tax App will generate the federal and state forms based on information entered on your account.

In this table, find various tax buzzwords you may come across accompanied by information for that topic and action(s) to take. 

Tax Buzz
Tax Return Guide
Action Item(s)
Organize and collect necessary records, forms, and receipts throughout the tax year based on your income and expenses.
Have your 2020 Tax Return handy; collect W-2, 1099, 1098-T, etc. Most tax forms are required to be issued by January 31.
IT = Income Taxes. Most income and deduction forms will arrive in your mail box and/or electronically by January 31, 2022 for Tax Year 2021. Don't e-file earlier unless you are 100% certain you got all your forms.
See the preparation checklist before you e-file and view tax return forms you can e-file or not.
Don't wait until the end of the tax year to assess your taxes. Plan in July and before the end of the year, December 31.
Assess your tax withholdings throughout the year and factor in all your income (W-2, 1099, etc.). Keep more of your money during the year if you received a large refund.
See overview and step-by-step instructions on completing a W-4 - complete your W-4 online using the free eFile.com withholding tools.
Consider retirement plan options and contributions as it's never too early for that. Contributions to a qualifying retirement account may be tax deductible and withdrawals may be tax free, depending on the type of account. Keep track of your income if you collect any form of retirement income.
Begin with the retirement tax planning page and navigate to other retirement pages, such as social security and taxes or pension plan contributions. Find an overview of retirement contribution options. You can generally make 2021 contributions through April 15, 2022. Make sure you have taken your qualified minimum distributions if you are required to do so by the end of the year.
Certain types of income require you to make estimated tax payments throughout the year. If you are self-employed, you may be responsible for these estimated payments.
Pay your estimated taxes to the IRS directly by the four quarterly deadlines. After the tax year, the last quarterly payment is due by January 15 following the year.
Know the expenses you can and cannot deduct on your tax return. Deductions and credits can lower your taxable income or tax liability. See tax breaks and ways to save on taxes.
See tax credits and tax deductions you may be able to claim. There are specific ones for different situations, such as student deductions and credits or credits for raising a child.
Find out if you actually have to file an income tax return. There are many reasons you may want to, even if you don't have a substantial amount of taxable income.
Use the free FILEuctor tool to quickly determine if you should file a tax return.
Should you file yourself or as someone's dependent on your tax return? Find out who to claim as your dependent and how to claim them.
Are you a single parent or student with a child or dependent? You may be able to file as a specific filing status with the IRS and receive different benefits.
See if you qualify for the Head of Household filing status.
Estimate your tax refund or taxes owed before you start filing or e-filing your tax return. Find other free calculators courtesy of eFile.com and better understand your tax situation. 
Use the free tax calculator to enter information and figures to estimate the results of filing your 2021 Tax Return.
Even if you can't pay for the taxes you might owe, you should either file a tax return or an extension by Tax Day, April 18, 2022 for 2021 Returns. The not filing penalty is higher than the not paying penalty.
See Federal Tax Day Deadlines and State Tax Day Deadlines.
To e-file an extension or not? Take note of these dates and file an extension if you need to.
Review eFile.com and IRS tax payments options on how to pay you taxes.
See Federal Income Tax payment options, such as an IRS Payment Plan.

State Income Taxes

State returns vary state by state and some can get more complicated than others. On eFile.com, your state return is automatically generated with your return based on your federal information so you generally do not have to fill in any state forms. Review this guide if you need to (or want to) file a state tax return:

Tax Buzz
What To Do Guide
Action Item(s)
All the points listed above apply more or less to your state income taxes as well. For specific information, review the state page.
Pick the state that applies to you and learn about what your tax implications are for your state.
State returns can only be e-filed with a federal return as per law. Prepare and e-file your federal and state returns together so you can file them electrically and not have to mail anything.
You can prepare and e-file your state tax return on eFile.com when filing your federal. The eFile Tax App will generate your state return based on your federal forms and, generally, no extra work is needed. Start for free and add your state return once you have finished entering all your tax data.

After Your Tax Return has Been Submitted, Mailed, or e-Filed

Once you have finished your forms and filed your return, the IRS and state will process it. If you e-file via eFile.com, monitor your account an email for important information. Find out what to do after you submit your tax return: 

Tax Buzz
What To Do Guide
Action Item(s)
After you have e-filed your return, monitor your emails, check your eFile.com account, and/or check your tax refund status.
Make sure your tax refund will be directly deposited into your account or mailed to the address on your tax return.
Download your completed tax return from your eFile.com account (under My Account) and keep it for your records. If you did not file your return on eFile.com (or even if you did), you may obtain a free transcript of your return from the IRS.
Click here if you prepared and eFiled via eFile.com.
Get an IRS tax return transcript regardless of where you prepared and filed.
Need to make a change on an e-filed or filed return? You will need to complete and file an amended tax return.
How to prepare and file a tax amendment on Form 1040-X. This can only be done for an accepted return.
Know what to do in case you get audited.

Get Ready to File Your 2021 Tax Return with eFile.com

If all of this is overwhelming for you, simply create a free account on eFile.com and start the tax interview process by answering simple questions. We make it easy for you so you don't have to worry about too many of the sometimes complicated tax law details. You can monitor your preliminary federal or IRS and state tax return as you go through the process. Before you actually eFile your tax return, make sure you check for errors and overall results or contact one of our Taxperts if you have questions.

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